Cautions -Research on Mentoring in Health Care


Yes, research is vital, but only if the research is well done. The research base on mentoring in health care requires very careful reading and analysis.

1. Some of what you may read may suggest actions that, in fact, would be counter productive and wasteful if followed. Typically, this kind of source is self-serving and based entirely on a writer’s own experiences – not really research at all. Such writing is difficult to identify and requires close examination of the data on which the writer has based recommendations, if such data even exist.

2. Some research reflects excellent work and thoughtful inquiry which can reveal best practice, be replicated by others, and greatly increase our ability to obtain earlier, cost-effective, and significant results. It is this kind of research the IMA provides to you – carefully chosen to be worth using.

3. Some “research” is merely a report on what a mentoring program has done. Such descriptive “research” is rarely best practice. In fact, you have three options.

  • If program designers and leaders (you?) merely use what others do, without also examining the other program’s goals, the other program’s evaluation of it’s effect on results, or the other program’s efforts to improve the impact of their program, THEN the “model” followed was in fact NOT a model worth following. Only if your goals are similar, and only if they have carefully collected data on which to base their claim of an “effective” program, then their approach is worth considering.
  • You can only use others’ research with confidence, if you have read a number of reports, and you have found similar approaches and results.
  • However, it’s likely that you do not have the time to invest in reaching this level of confidence. Perhaps that is why you have joined the IMA and are here on this web site? Because, without the time to read numerous research reports and analyze them your best option is to rely on others who HAVE taken this kind of time and thought, and are sharing their conclusions about best practices worth following.

If you build your program on the research and best practices shared on this web site, your program WILL be a powerful force for staff and organization development.

The research report below is a very typical example of this challenge. We suggest that you carefully read and consider the three parts of this page for the lessons it contains.

  1. The findings of this specific research about mentoring in health care (and other factors)
  2. The response of one of the readers of that research (who is a health care executive)
  3. The editors comments.


Critical Success Factors in the Development of Healthcare Management Careers. Journal of Healthcare Management –  July, 1998. By Daniel F. Fahey, Cedars-Sinai Health Associates, Los Angeles, California; Robert C. Myrtle, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California; Jack R. Schlosser, Heidrick & Struggles, Los Angeles, California .

Retrieved online December 19, 2010 at

This study found 9among other things) that assistance by a mentor was not a significant reason for health care executives’  job satisfaction nor career success.


Interestingly, in a review of this article,  Dennis M. Lee, president of Methodist Hospital of Southern California, Arcadia, California said,

I would offer that the diverse nature of executive management in health services organizations is a contributing factor to job and career satisfaction. Success at the executive level of a health services organization is dependent on the individual’s ability to deal with matters that span the spectrum of legal, medical, financial, and strategic issues. This diverse mix of issues makes the job even more challenging and (if successful) rewarding.

This is why the finding that the survey participants were not highly influenced by a mentor with respect to job satisfaction and success in their management career was surprising. It would have been my expectation that the presence of an effective and influential mentor (editor’s emphasis) early in a person’s career would have a dramatic influence on that individual’s career progression. The things we learn from watching others throughout the development of our careers play a material role in our ultimate success.”

Editor comment –

Amen!  We often caution people, “Be careful that you do NOT ‘want to establish mentoring in the worst way’, because, indeed, you may get it that way.” Success does not automatically occur just because we appoint senior people to be “mentors”. We DO NOT NEED mentors. What we need is EFFECTIVE mentoring.

We hasten to point out that other research shows that mentoring of health care staff at ANY level is not a typical, nor even a common phenomena, and that when it IS present, it is frequently done under extreme pressures of time and work load, and often not viewed as important nor effective. We ask, “How COULD it be?”

This simply confirms an even wider knowledge base that “not every expert is a good teacher”, or “not every excellent health care professional is automatically going to also be a good mentor”. The work of a mentor is indeed a unique and specialize professional role for which almost everyone requires preparation.

This is ESPECIALLY TRUE in the helping professions where the needs ALWAYS exceed the time available, where resources are typically inadequate, where client case load is excessive, where professional and career development are infrequent, and where TIME is always the biggest limiting factor.

Yes, it is TRUE that people who choose careers in the “helping professions” (like teaching, counseling, or health care) are more likely than others to succeed as mentors. However, even these helpful persons require and deserve access (via mentor training) to what experienced mentors have found are the most effective practices on which to focus, focus which is needed exactly because a mentor’s time will be limited.

The finding of the above article, that mentoring was not a significant factor, does NOT mean that mentoring cannot be effective, nor does it suggest we should eliminate mentoring in health care. Rather, what the evidence tells us is that when health care mentors are effectively trained for their challenging role, when their leaders and the organization see support for professional development as the prerequisite for organization development and mission success, THEN the mentors CAN be very effective. They CAN make a big difference in the work and job satisfaction or careers of those they support. AND, they WILL  help their health care organization to succeed in it’s vital mission.