MENTORING is the Cat’s Meow…The Bee’s Knees… (am I showing my age?)

Deborah Taylor, PhD

One of my greatest professional joys has been my connection to STFM’s Behavioral Science/Family Systems Educator Fellowship (BFEF) steering committee. Most “seasoned” behavioral science educators remember the “jump and build wings on the way down” training model for our discipline. The BFEF is an effort to create a more supportive/less isolated model to increase retention and career satisfaction. As with most acts that appear altruistic, those of us on the steering committee quickly found ourselves experiencing increased energy/enthusiasm and dedication to our work. In promoting a fellowship model of mentorship intended to be an offering, we receive far more than we contribute.

The term “mentor” has its roots in Homer’s epic poem, “The Odyssey.” In this myth, Odysseus, a great royal warrior, has been off fighting the Trojan War and has entrusted his son, Telemachus, to his friend and advisor, Mentor. Mentor has been charged with advising and serving as guardian to the entire royal household. As the story unfolds, Mentor accompanies and guides Telemachus on a journey in search of his father and ultimately for a new and fuller identity of his own. At times, throughout the story, Athene, goddess of wisdom, who presides over all craft and skillfulness, whether of the hands or the mind, manifests herself to Telemachus in the form of Mentor. The account of Mentor in “The Odyssey” leads us to make several conclusions about the activity that bears his name. First, mentoring is an intentional process. Mentor intentionally carried out his responsibilities for Telemachus. Second, mentoring is a nurturing process, which fosters the growth and development of the protégé toward full maturity. It was Mentor’s responsibility to draw forth the full potential in Telemachus. Third, mentoring is an insightful process in which the wisdom of the mentor is acquired and applied by the protégé. Some argue it was Mentor’s task to help Telemachus grow in wisdom without rebellion. Fourth, mentoring is a supportive, protective process. Telemachus was to consider the advice of Mentor, and Mentor was to “keep all safe.”

I was surprised to learn that mentoring begins to appear in the professional literature only in the last 15-20 years. Mentoring is now clearly identified as an important influence in professional development in both the public and private sector, including health care. Documented benefits of mentoring include increased performance, retention, commitment to the organization (local and sponsoring), and the presence of paying it forward by mentees.

I am consistently struck with the opportunities we have to “walk the talk” about mentoring’s value — the mentor as teacher, as counselor, as a “travel” guide and one who promotes the development of  others. I encourage you to reflect on the myriad mentoring opportunities that present to us as members of residency programs, family medicine departments, health care organizations, and regional/national professional development groups like STFM and CFHA. Be open to seeking mentoring relationships as well as offering your expertise and professional friendship, and “promote” others in need.

I hope you have or will enjoy being on the giving and receiving end of some valuable mentoring in your life – it has been my “cat’s pajamas” and my “bee’s knees” (my mom’s two favorite descriptors)!  Thanks for engaging – I really appreciate your time.

Dr. Deborah Taylor has been a behavioral science educator and associate program director at Central Maine Medical Center FMR (a community based program with a rural training emphasis) for the past 20+ years. She received her PhD in Clinical Psychology from the Univeristy of Kansas and has worked in medical education for the past 25 years. Deborah currently serves as the co-director of the STFM Behavioral Science/Family Systems Educator fellowship.

This is the fifth and final in a series of collaborative blog posts between the Collaborative Family Healthcare Association and the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine.

3 responses to “MENTORING is the Cat’s Meow…The Bee’s Knees… (am I showing my age?)

  1. Thanks for your excellent description of mentoring. I am especially interested in the new trend of “reverse mentoring” where a younger person mentors an older person in the workplace in social media use, computer or workplace practices. If one is open, mentors can come in many forms. One of my friend’s daughters has turned out to be a very good mentor to me as she became a young adult. She mentors me in social media trends, video and marketing (her current career path and college studies). On a fun side note I was the “cat’s pajamas” at work yesterday for Halloween – nice to hear someone else knows that phrase!

  2. Barry J. Jacobs, Psy.D.

    I have really enjoyed this STFM-CFHA series of blog posts. It demonstrates the commonality of purposes between these two forward-looking national organizations, including devising inclusive,integrated care models to meet the challenges of chronic disease management and healthcare reform. STFM is to be lauded for finding like-minded organizations with which to partner and grow.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Dr Jacobs. It is our goal to explore opportunities and alliances with other health care-related organizations in the United States and internationally that enhance the professional well-being, vitality, and growth of members and academic family medicine. We look forward to our continued partnership with The Collaborative Family Healthcare Association.

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