In school they stress the importance of mentoring relationships after graduation. It’s paramount to have a good mentor: someone who gives you constructive criticism, helps mold and shape you into a better professional, and gives you consistent guidance and support.
As speech-language pathologists, we fortunately get this support mandated for nine months after graduation—in the form of a clinical fellowship—as we transition into fully licensed professionals. In theory, all clinical fellowships include readily available mentors who eagerly support fledgling SLPs. In reality, increased demands on productivity, paperwork and caseloads means supervising a clinical fellow adds to already overwhelming responsibilities.
I manage the new graduate and clinical fellowship programs at Advanced Travel Therapy, so I frequently interact with grad students as well as with recent graduates working toward certification. Surprisingly, fellow mentors on my team complain that many new grads never call them back. The combination of already-overloaded mentor SLPs supervising potentially unresponsive recent grads might result in a gap within the usual mentoring cycle.
No quick and easy fixes exist to remedy these issues. However, sharing the following insights with my clinical fellows—and members of my mentoring team—has improved the mentoring experience for everyone.
“I know what I’m doing! I haven’t run into any issues. I’m doing just fine.” No matter how well you think you know your profession, you still need a mentor. Everyone benefits from mentorship, from CEOs to physicians to SLPs. Someone can always offer different experiences, expertise, wisdom and insight. Mentors give you an outside perspective and experienced advice on ways to better yourself. To find a good mentor, seek out like-minded individuals where you work, network through a special interest group or meet other SLPs through local and national conventions or other in-person events.
Mentorship may not fall into your lap, so pursue it! Don’t be afraid to ask other professionals for help and don’t be afraid to ask for the support you need to improve your skills. Clinical fellows: If your supervisor isn’t giving you feedback, ask for it. The mentoring relationship shouldn’t be a tandem bike with only one person pedaling. Don’t be afraid to ask the other person to pick it up a little.
Time. If only we had more of it, we could solve all our problems, right? We can’t add time to our days, but we can creatively maximize the amount we do have. Mentoring and supervising a clinical fellow requires a time commitment. ASHA guidelines—and those from state associations—require a certain amount of supervision (usually an hour) per week. An hour doesn’t sound too bad, but when you add in all of your other professional requirements, finding one more hour can get tricky.
To ease these time challenges with our mentors, I helped devise a telesupervision program in which clinical fellows meet with supervisors remotely via live video. This real-time interaction qualifies as direct supervision. The process allows supervisors to provide immediate feedback and save on travel time. Clinical fellows in this program say they like receiving consistent support and feedback from mentors, but also the independence they get by working on their own at a site.
Here’s a message for mentors: Even if your protege seems fine and doesn’t ask questions, you still should provide supervision and support to help them grow. Give them detailed feedback on what they did well, things to improve, how to improve them and suggestions for future sessions. Take the honor of being a mentor seriously!
And mentoring can continue beyond clinical fellowships. Those of us more seasoned in the field need to be open and willing to help other professionals coming to us for help. And new SLPs should proactively seek out mentors who can share insights into their specific work setting or specialty.
Instead of looking at mentoring as an obligation, let’s look at it as an opportunity.