Here’s What it Means to Be a Mentor

colorful notepapers with mentoring written on top sheet

Mentoring plays a major role in preparing the next generation of workers to take over from the current generation in any profession, and respiratory care is no exception. But what does it take to be a mentor?

Steve Wehrman, RRT, RPFT, has formally mentored 10 respiratory therapists over his 40+ years in the profession. He has also served as a more informal mentor to countless others. Wehrman, a professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii Kapi’olani Community College in Honolulu, HI, and three-time former president of the Hawaii Society for Respiratory Care who is now retired and lives in Vancouver, WA, explains why he invested the time and energy into mentoring.

What goes around, comes around

“I became a mentor because I was mentored by several great RTs,” Wehrman said. “Through my own experience, I was able to grasp the value of mentoring and how it helped me in my career and my life. I also became a mentor because there were times when I did not get mentored and it would have been helpful.”

Wehrman says his dedication to mentoring led him and others at Kapi’olani to start a student mentoring program where second-year students were charged with mentoring first-year students.

“Besides the obvious goal of helping new students succeed, we also wanted to create a culture of mentoring so that this would eventually become the norm in our profession,” he said.

He and his colleagues took it a step further too by creating a board program in the Hawaii Society to help students attend the AARC Congress and sit in on the House of Delegates meeting that always precedes it. That program has paid off big time for the state society.

“Seventy-eight percent have gone on to serve on the board of directors in our state,” Wehrman said.

Lifelong connections

According to Wehrman, a good mentor/mentee relationship requires clear expectations on both sides, and he emphasizes trust and honesty are critical to success. He recommends it to any RT with the time and inclination to help fellow RTs nurture their careers.

“Mentoring will help you to grow as a therapist,” he said. “It will also give you a lifelong connection to the person you mentored. They will never forget what you did for them. It’s a blessing for me to hear from all these folks and to see them become managers and teachers and therapists of excellence and to know that I played a small part in that. Mentoring is a real chance to make positive changes in respiratory therapy.”

Steve Wehrman has this list of do’s and don’ts for people considering getting involved in a mentoring relationship —

  • Do make a formal plan, even if it has wiggle room.
  • Do personalize the mentoring for the individual.
  • Do meet frequently in a relaxed setting to review.
  • Do be brave.
  • Don’t use the word “mentee.” I think that is a large aquatic animal in Florida. I like “protégé.” But seriously, don’t put your “mentee” in a category that lessens them — it should be more a peer-to-peer team effort. After all, the “mentee” might become your boss one day!
  • Don’t try to make the person you are mentoring into another you. Remember learning styles differ. Try to accommodate the person you are helping so it works for them.
  • Don’t talk about the relationship to others. It’s private and you need to give the person a chance to make mistakes and be honest with you, knowing you can be trusted with personal fears, etc.

Want to learn more about the AARC House of Delegates mentoring program Wehrman referenced in this article? Read “HOD Student Mentoring Program is Building the Next Generation of RT Leaders” published on the AARC website earlier this year.