Bryan Ochalla is a freelance writer and editor based in Seattle.
Learn ways to evaluate the effectiveness of your mentorship program.
Just a little more than five years ago, the Fellows of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners formed a mentorship program "so we could contribute to the professional development of other nurse practitioners," says Mary Jo Goolsby, Ed.D., MSN, NP-C, CAE, director of research and education at AANP.
The program pairs one of AANP's approximately 250 fellows—nurse practitioners who have been recognized for their contributions to leadership in the profession—with member applicants based on the latter's areas of interest or identified goals.
Typically, mentors and mentees are geographically distant, which is a must considering AANP's members are spread across the country. Plus, Goolsby adds, "the best mentor is not necessarily in one's backyard."
Chiefly responsible for the program's success, according to Goolsby, is that applicants, along with their mentors, establish goals early in the relationship. Similarly important: Applicants' progress toward their goals is tracked throughout the year-long relationship.
Though mentors and mentees tend to check in with one another on a monthly basis, they also check in with Goolsby on three occasions. "Sometimes their reports are as brief as a paragraph, and sometimes they're longer," she says. Regardless of length, the reports are used "to confirm that [applicants] are on track, to determine whether their goals have changed during the process, and to identify any assistance that might be needed."
After turning in their final report, which details whether or not they met their goals, applicants are asked to evaluate their mentorship. Unfortunately, Goolsby says, those evaluations aren't all that helpful in pinpointing problems with the program, because "people tend to be so positive about the experience."
In fact, after-the-fact, off-the-cuff comments seem to do a better job of alerting her to issues associated with the program. Case in point: "One person recently told me that the only thing she could think of that would make [the program] better would be to arrange, beyond the first face-to-face meeting, to have the pairs meet at some other point during the year. Those kinds of comments are the most helpful in terms of seeing how we could enhance or improve the program," Goolsby says.
One final way AANP attempts to measure the often-intangible benefits of these relationships: At the tail end of the program, participants are given the opportunity to create a poster and display it at the association's national conference. The posters "sometimes relate to the mentoring process or lessons learned along the way," Goolsby says, "but more often [they are] a means of sharing the outcomes of the mentorship."
When asked why it's so important for her and for any association that follows in AANP's footsteps to track the results of such a program, Goolsby says, "We want to be able to evaluate the program and seek opportunities for improvement." Without outcomes, she says, it would be impossible to measure the success of the program in general or the mentorships in particular.
"Measurement also provides positive feedback to the individual mentors, who are able to recognize the value of their contributions to the mentee," she says. "And by stopping to consider the outcomes and degree of growth or achievement realized during the one-year program, the mentees are able to recognize their accomplishments too."
Finally, because the program is a time-intensive one for both the participants and the staff of Goolsby's association, "there is the need to document return on investment—of energy and time—to establish that the program benefits our membership and contributes to the mission of AANP as well as the [Fellows] program."
Bryan Ochalla is a freelance writer based in Seattle. Email: [email protected]