When you’re at the mercy of your mentor.

I was ashamed and remarkably uncomfortable with the treatment (or lack thereof) my mentor had just given an elderly woman who’d had a significant fall. As we drove away he turned and muttered to me “why the hell did you put the monitor on her? F*** me, if you had have taken her blood pressure we would have found something wrong and had to transport the old bag”.

Like many professions, paramedicine in Australia involves an internship program. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, internships and student placements are essentially where a person with little experience works within a company under the guidance and direction of various experienced industry members in a bid to make them fit to practice.

As you can imagine, the experience gained during an internship dramatically shapes the practices, attitudes and competency of an intern. They can last months through to years and literally make or break careers.

In a good internship, you should be exposed to a wide range of mentors. Some will inspire you, with an immense passion for their work and amazing skill set. Others will simply demotivate you, by at best teaching you what not to do.

I’ve had more than my fair share of both.

So what do you do when you end up with someone who you just don’t click with (or who perhaps isn’t quite up to the standard you’d hoped for)?

Thankfully, all is not lost; there are more options than simply having to grin and bear it.

First off, as simple (and intimidating) is it sounds, actually having a conversation with your mentor can be profoundly helpful. By outlining what is expected of you as an intern, you open the door to set down what you expect of a mentor. If there are problems, speak up. You don’t want to have to admit to a manager further down the line that you never actually requested a change.

Secondly, if you see the relationship headed south or your mentor acting unprofessionally, make a written note somewhere private of the event. This isn’t there to be used against them. It’s so you can work out exactly how often the problematic behaviour is occurring and provide examples if you request a change of mentor (mentioned later).

Thirdly, speak with someone you trust in the organisation about the problem mentoring. Generally, if the person is a poor operator they’ll have a reputation for it amongst others in the company. But if they’re everyone’s favourite person who happens to be going through a rough life stage (e.g. first anniversary of a child’s death) you don’t want to be the intern who launches the complaint case against them.

Be patient, it may take a few weeks. However, if these don’t work, organise a closed door meeting with your direct manager, to request a change of mentor and most of all explain why. If needed, utilise the examples you have recorded. It may take a few more weeks for this change to happen, but it will prevent you from having to explain why you left your last internship early, or spending more unproductive time with a mentor.

Last up, if all else fails, consider leaving the organisation. It’s better to job hunt as a fresh faced intern, than as a burned out and depressed employee with an inferior skill set.

As for what happened to that mentor I mentioned earlier: I attempted to lodge a formal complaint against him after he essentially abused and committed mal-practice against that patient. I was told by the team leader not to bother. It would only be another domino in an already too long line, and potentially attract attention which would warrant me an undesirable reputation.

I’ve never worked with him since.

Some of my mentors have provided me with skills which I will carry for a life time. Others have simply forced me to attempt to make the most of a bad situation.

What has your experience been?

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