Why be a mentor?

I have some passions in the profession of physical therapy and the first is to provide the best care to my patients.  The second is to create therapists that will provide the best care to patients, as they indirectly represent me.  I do my best to ensure that PT students that go through me develop the reasoning ability to understand ethical and unethical environments that will challenge their ability to provide that best care to patients.  This profession is very much driven by the almighty dollar and I understand why some students make specific decisions as to which job to take, but as long as that student has weighted the “pro’s” and “cons” of taking a job, I know that I did what was right in teaching my students.  Some students unfortunately never develop that ability to reason past the $$$.  


The Oxford dictionary defines mentor as “an experienced and trusted advisor” and “an experienced person in a company, college, or school who trains and counsels new employees or students.” 1 There are published studies that oppose this definition, which will be discussed in detail further in the paper. Other professionals have specific definitions of mentor as follows: “ Mentor is an individual with noted experience and position within the Military Nurse Corps who possesses a genuine interest in guiding the professional and personal development of a less experienced Nurse Corps officer.”2 As a physical therapist, mentoring is a topic of importance for the author.   I started my career as a teacher of biology, secondary education, with the intent to mold current students into future leaders. Because of circumstances, that dream was never to become a reality and I chose a different career path. My first year of clinical practice, I was asked by GSU to be a clinical instructor because of personal characteristics. Holmes3 states that novice clinicians placed in a mentoring role may have difficulty with individual personal development. My boss/mentor at the time believed that I possessed the qualities to overcome this added adversity and after serving as a clinical instructor for the first student, I found that my initial dream could become a reality in this new field. The stresses of mentoring during the initial years

Christiansen et al5 notes that there are two processes for mentor selection: assignment by an institution or selection by the protégé. Others disagree with this statement, in that preceptors are assigned, but mentors are chosen8. It is advised to choose a team of mentors in order to advise on multiple issues, with each mentor having a specialty6. In the end, one should choose a mentor “who exemplifies traits and skills that you want to adopt”6.

As a mentor, it is rewarding to observe students and clinicians that choose me as a mentor when these individuals apply the information garnered from the relationship in order to treat a patient whom previously the clinician would not have the knowledge or experience to treat. This is consistent with Wainwright et al4, in which the following is stated: 1. clinical decision-making is advanced through clinical education, 2. positive mentoring enhances clinical practice skills, 3. Experienced clinicians inevitably become mentors to novice clinicians. Christiansen et al5 and Holmes et al3 also relate mentoring to the advancement of clinical skills.

Attributes and roles of a mentor are widely published in the research as demonstrated in the following table:

Characteristics Roles
Experienced4,8 Coach6,10
Content knowledge5,6 Advisor1,6,9
Communication skills5,8,9 Counselor1,6,10
Personal integrity5,6 Confidant6
Systems-based learning5
Willingness to teach5
Intellectual humility5
Internal locus of control5
Maintains confidentiality6


As stated previously, a mentor is an advisor…who counsels new employees or students1. Christiansen et al5 states, “Mentoring is not supervising, advising, career counseling, shadowing or coaching. Mentoring is workplace learning and must occur within that environment.” Although the previous statement relays that a mentor must work in the same environment as the mentee, Liu and Ansbacher6 state that long-distance mentoring can be successful through e-mail, phone conferencing or meeting at annual conferences. Based on the aforementioned articles, the act of mentoring appears subjective in nature, as varying authors have different opinions on both the definition and act of mentoring.

Mentoring requires dedication to the process, which includes substantial investments of time, energy, and resources-physical, emotional and intellectual.”3

As a clinical instructor and mentor to other Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy (MDT) trained therapists, this statement is accurate. When I was a new professional (< 5 years of experience), I was consistently studying the concepts of MDT, hierarchy of knowledge principles and coursework for clinical instructors. This studying was not without cost. I sacrificed time from family, friends and life experiences in order to work towards that initial dream. Being a mentor also poses a challenge of finding a mentor4. The mentors that I chose are from around the country, and I am only able to meet with them at large spine conferences. As a clinical instructor, I am aware of the bias that is inherent when a relationship is created and established with a mentee and try not to provide preferential treatment for my students7.

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) does not define a mentor, but establishes the roles for the mentor and protégé as follows11:


  1. Acclimate the early-career protégé into the culture and the value of PT12
  2. Help the ECP understand the core values of PT and the role of each PT and PTA to support the practice mission of PT
  3. Be open to working as a mentor
  4. Create a collegial atmosphere that provides responsiveness and respect for the ECP
  5. Seek training and education to further skills in mentoring


  1. Identify knowledge and skill gaps
  2. Establish career goals for life-long learning, both short and long term.
  3. Identify specific experiential opportunities
  4. Identify potential mentors, both junior and senior, who have compatible interests.

During the literature review for this paper, there was only one article that formalized a mentor program. Burritt et al13 studied the outcomes of removing experienced nurses from clinical practice in order to work as a mentor for novice nurses. “The prevalence of stage 2 or greater nosocomial pressure ulcers improved by 38%, which was significantly lower in the post implementation phase. A 47% reduction in the number of adverse events that comprise the composite measure of failure to rescue was also noted to be significant.” Tactics such as this may also influence retention rates of nurses8.


To conclude, Holmes et al3 sums it up in a concise statement, “Rejoice in the successes of your mentee, these triumphs can only enhance your own standing.” The author personally chooses to be a mentor for those with less experience, in order to assist those with the characteristics needed to become a successful mentor. My dream of creating future leaders is now reality as my protégés are now becoming mentors.


  1. Mentor. In Oxford dictionary online. Retrieved from
  2. Blankenbaker SE. Mentor Training in a Military Nurse Corps. Journal for Nurses in Staff Development. 2005;21(3):120-125.
  3. Holmes DR, Hodgson PK, Simari RD, Nishimura RA. Mentoring: Making the Transition from Mentee to Mentor. Circulation. 2010;121:336-34.
  4. Wainwright SF, Shehpard F, Harman LB, Stephens J. Factors That Influence the Clinical Decidion Making of Novice and Experienced Physical Therapists. PTJ. 2011;91:87-101.
  5. Christensen N, Gerber P, Jensen G, et al. (2014). American Board of Physical Therapy Residency and Fellowship Education: Mentoring Resource Manual. Accessed from:
  6. Liu JR, Ansbacher R. Assembling the Optimal Mentor Team. Obstetrical and Gynecological Survey. 2008;63(4)

7.Coulson CC, Kunselman AR, Cain J, Legro RS. Graduate Education: The Mentor Effect in Student Evaluation. Obstet Gynecol. 2000;95:619-622.

  1. Martin CA. Across the Generations: It takes a village to raise a nurse. Nursing Critical Care. 2007;2(3):45-49.
  2. Ansbacher R. A Guest Editorial: The Mentor-Mentee Relationship. Obstetrical and Gynecological Survey. 2003;58(8):505-506.
  3. Hurst SM, Kplin-Baucum S. Innovative Solution Mentor Program: Evaluation, Change and Challenges. Dimens Crit Care Nurs. 2005;24(6):273-274.
  4. American Physical Therapy Association. (2012). Best Practice for Mentoring Early-Career Proteges: HOD P06-12-16-05. Retrieved from:
  5. Gardner EA, Schmidt CK. Implementing a Leadership Course and Mentor Model for Students in the National Student Nurses’ Association. Nurse Educator. 2007;32(4):178-182.
  6. Burritt J, Wallace P, Steckel C, Hunter A. Achieving Quality and Fiscal Outcomes in Patient Care: The Clinical Mentor Care Delivery Model. JONA. 207;37(12):558-563.
Categories: Physical therapy, PTs, Written BlogsTags: ,

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: