In this podcast episode, I talk about mentors and coaches. My primary focus is on mentors. But I’ll spend a few minutes distinguishing them from coaches. I finish up by listing six rules to follow to find and engage a mentor.

Who Needs a Mentor?

Anyone thinking about exploring a new career, or just trying to excel at their current one, will benefit from having a knowledgeable and motivated mentor.

I suppose if you have the ideal job, and you’ve reached the top of your profession, then maybe you don’t need a mentor. But if you’re listening to this, then you’re either strongly considering a career change, or you’re already in the process of such a move. And a mentor can be very helpful in that case. I’ll explain why in a little bit.

How Is a COACH Different?

A business or professional coach tends to focus on specific skills, such as communication, goal setting, or management skills. The coaching relationship tends to be shorter, while mentoring can go on for years or decades.

Coaching is more likely to be a formal process, and most coaches are paid for their coaching services.

Sometimes your employer may provide a coach to address specific skills, and once they have improved, the coaching may be terminated. Most coaches work in an entirely different way than a mentor. They tend to not give advice or solutions to problems. Rather, they pose questions and encourage insights using the Socratic method.

OK, let’s return to the issue of mentors.

Five Reasons That You Need a Mentor.

A mentor will…

  1. save you a lot of time, frustration, and money by pointing you in the right direction,
  2. stop you from making a BIG mistake,
  3. provide objective, unbiased advice,
  4. be a connector, helping you network with others in your intended field, and,
  5. provide encouragement when you’re feeling down or pessimistic.

To further drive this point home, consider the Small Business Administration. The SBA did a study that looked at the relationship between starting a business involving a mentor, and failure or success of the business. Ordinarily, about 50% of small businesses fail within 5 years of opening. However, those business owners who had a mentor had a success rate of 70%. I believe the success rate will be even higher for physicians seeking a career change who have a mentor to advise and encourage them.

Six Rules to Help You Engage a Mentor

  1. Identify Potential Mentors

    Simply put, these are persons similar to you who are further along on the career path you’re considering.

  2. Don't Ask Someone To Be Your Mentor!

    Wait a second. I’ve just told you that you need a mentor. And that you should search for a mentor. But the BEST way to engage them is to simply ask one simple question, like: “How did you go from practicing medicine to becoming an expert witness?” or “I’m trying to learn more about becoming a medical advisor. Are there any resources you would recommend?” To be formally asked to be a mentor is somewhat threatening. It sounds to the mentor that they're taking on a full-time job dedicated to your success.

  3. Don't Smother Your Mentor

    Don't waste their time or impose on them unnecessarily. This is not a friendship you’re trying to develop (although it may happen, that's not the goal). Keep the interactions brief and to the point. That way, the mentor won’t avoid your inquiry the next time you call or email.

  4. Find More Than One Mentor

    This is pretty self-explanatory. Especially if you’re considering a move into one of several non-clinical careers, you may wish to find a mentor who is working in each of those fields.

  5. Don't Seek a Celebrity Mentor

    If you’re pursuing a career as a motivational speaker, don’t start by stalking Tony Robbins. To bring it closer to home, if you’re interested in becoming a Quality Improvement professional, don’t waste your time (at least initially) trying to engage with Donald Berwick, former head of CMS and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement before that. Start with someone who is a step or two ahead of you. Later, as you engage with your colleagues in the field you may, indeed, have the opportunity to access more accomplished and well-known personalities.

  6. Consider Unorthodox Mentors

    I think it’s helpful to remember that we don’t always need specific formal mentors. Many of us can learn specific skills by reading books, watching videos, and other “how-to” instructional materials, using VIRTUAL mentors. For example, I consider authors such as Patrick Lencioni and Susan Scott to be informal mentors to me through their books, and Michael Hyatt and Skip Prichard through their leadership blogs. The blog writers are even closer to real mentors because you can sometimes interact with them via blog comments, Facebook or LinkedIn messaging, and email.

In Closing…

No matter what nonclinical career you may be considering, it will definitely be helpful to identify a mentor in that field to help you navigate your course to that career.

And as you do so, remember these 6 suggestions:

  • Identify potential mentors around you
  • Don't ask someone to be your mentor outright
  • Don't smother your mentor
  • Develop more than one mentor
  • Don't seek a celebrity mentor
  • Consider unorthodox mentors

There you have it. I hope you found this interview inspiring and informative.


Here is a list of resources mentioned in this episode:

Previous Episodes

If you missed the previous podcast episodes check them out at…

  1. Getting Acquainted or listen at iTunes or Stitcher
  2. Proper Way to Pivot
  3. Seeking an MBA

Come Back Next Week

Thank you so much for joining me. I really appreciate your time and attention. I’ll be with you again soon – right here at Physician NonClinical Careers.

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