In virtually every profession, employee mentorship can lead to notable benefits that affect not only the mentee but also their leaders, co-workers and the entire organization. It stands to reason then why mentorship deserves a solid place in the healthcare setting—where patient outcomes and customer service hinge on employees’ ability to perform their roles safely, effectively and in strict accordance with standards and guidelines, instructions for use (IFU) and internal policies and procedures.
In its simplest definition, mentorship typically involves taking a less experienced individual under a more experienced person’s tutelage and helping them strengthen their knowledge and hands-on skills to become more confident and competent in their roles. When appropriately applied, mentorship can be a vehicle for professional advancement and, perhaps, elevate certain employees to leadership positions.
“Mentors within the Sterile Processing environment are an essential aspect of employee skill development and strengthening, and demonstrating in a positive, influential manner the correct way of doing things,” said Natalie Lind, CRCST, CHL, FCS, IAHCSMM’s Director of Education. “It’s important that departmental leaders are aware of the employees with strong skills and work ethic who would make effective mentors and help their teammates grow and advance.”
Don’t get hung up on hierarchy
It’s a common assumption that departmental leaders make the best mentors due to their experience. While they are a logical choice when looking to develop future supervisors or managers, many organizations find that skilled, quality- and safety-focused technicians can also become highly effective mentors and informal leaders. These individuals aren’t necessarily the employees who have been in the department the longest, either. Instead, it could be any dedicated employee who consistently demonstrates their commitment to the department and doing what’s right, even when pressure mounts and challenges arise.
Effective SP leaders spend quality time on the department floor each day—outside their office—so they can witness employees in action. This allows them to gain a clearer picture of the tasks that pose the greatest challenge to technicians (and which may require further training), the employees who routinely give their all and are intently focused on the task at hand and those who are quick to help their teammates whenever needed. Would-be mentors may stand out from the crowd due to their strong attendance and on-time record, their commitment to continuing education and certification, and their specialized knowledge or demonstration of task efficiency. Ideally, they will consistently show integrity and enjoy learning and tackling new challenges, be helpful but not bossy or condescending and serve as the person their co-workers naturally seek for guidance, input or assistance. They may be a lead technician or a Certified Instrument Specialist, or they may even be a relatively new technician who has quickly mastered a certain skill (e.g., wrapping) that can benefit the rest of the team.
A newly assigned “official” mentor should be given clear direction from their manager before they assume their more focused mentorship duties. They may require some additional training (this can come from departmental leadership, the SP educator, or even Human Resources if the organization has a formal mentorship program in place). Informal and impromptu mentorship can also be beneficial, however, and should be encouraged by departmental leaders, especially since they cannot always be available when needed across all shifts. If an employee sees a co-worker struggling with a process, skipping a step, or doing anything else that goes against standards, policy, IFU or best practice, they should immediately step in and respectfully explain and/or demonstrate the proper way (and the “why” behind it). If the mentored employee isn’t receptive to the advice or continues to engage in unsafe or improper practices, the mentor should privately address the situation with the department’s leadership.
“Every employee has the power to make a difference for their colleagues and the customers and patients they serve,” noted Lind. “It’s important that each employee, regardless of their experience or title, feels they are supported in sharing what they know is right and helping their co-workers when needed. In healthcare, keeping knowledge and information close to the vest is not just unhelpful; it can be downright dangerous and could negatively impact patient and employee safety.”