Mentoring in the Hospital Setting

Mentoring is all about caring, and so is the hospital setting, so mentoring in the hospital setting is a natural and critical area to examine. Hospitals are special places -special because of what their unique work is, and special because mentoring in a hospital has some unique elements too.


  1. MemorialCare Medical Centers
  2. Hammond Henry Hospital, Genesseo, Illinois, USA
  3. Christina Health Care, Delaware


1. MemorialCare Medical Centers

IT IS AN IDEAL toward which to work – Mentor program designers are better off if they can ensure that top management is involved in the program and in its inception, otherwise it won’t get the attention and enthusiasm it needs to become part of the business culture.

You should have their understanding and their support. That is absolutely one of the keys,”

…says Barry Arbuckle, CEO of MemorialCare Medical Centers, a six-hospital system in Southern California that uses mentoring as part of its development program for middle managers.

YES – the company’s chief operating officer, not human resources executives, runs the company’s mentoring and leadership program.

Some Lessons Worth Sharing –

(1) Establish an Agenda – MemorialCare Medical Centers started with loose guidelines for its mentoring program but later found it was better to have a prescribed agenda, says CEO Barry Arbuckle.

  • The hospital network now offers assignments for each of the one- to two-hour monthly mentor meetings, complete with agendas and questions for both participants.
  • Mentors are asked to talk about an ethical dilemma and how they handled it and then talk about barriers to creating change in the organization.
  • Meanwhile, proteges must talk about their career aspirations and what leadership skills they need to develop.
  • Later they revise their resumes and write a two-page summary of their mentor meetings.
  • As part of the leadership program, the hospital network also requires those receiving mentorship to do research projects (that the company would otherwise outsource to a consulting firm) and go to their mentors for help with it.

(2) Be patient – The payoff for mentorship is hard to judge and can often take years to show results. At Memorial Care, mentoring of middle managers has paid off in better leadership development and succession planning. Ten years ago, when the program started, the hospital network hired internal people for top management jobs just 35 percent of the time. Today it’s up to 73 percent of the time. That’s a very BIG cost savings for the hospital system in recruitment, hiring, orientation, training, supervision, and mentoring costs! It’s also a big non financial benefit to have new top managers who know the organization, it’s Mission, and the people and challenges on day one. There is no learning curve – they “hit the ground running” and are effective much sooner.

2. Hammond Henry Hospital, Genesseo, Illinois, USA

It’s small by some standards, but in their community, it’s a big deal. It is literally the lifeblood of the Henry County region of northwestern Illinois. It’s a rural, agricultural region, but the community loves and supports their hospital. And so the hospital has been growing – new technologies and new programs to keep services for the community at the cutting edge; new staff to provide the newer services; new spaces in the form of additions and remodeling of existing spaces, and new recognition by the state for their accomplishments.

But the wonderful, proud community they serve is also part of their challenge as it can make it hard to attract and keep the quality staff on which their tradition of excellence rests. Recently, the Hammond Henry Hospital Career Development Committee decided, “the hospital needs a mentoring program, and our staff DESERVE a mentoring program.”

The goals were several:

  • Attract and recruit more and better qualified new hires;
  • Retain those new hires;
  • Provide better professional and career development for new hires;
  • Utilize the considerable knowledge, skills and experience of the seasoned staff to benefit the newer staff and hospital services;
  • Honor and recognize those more experienced staff.

The Career Development Committee appointed one of the clinical educators on their group as the new program’s coordinator, and they reviewed potential mentors, inviting them to participate. All who were invited felt honored for the recognition and opportunity. The recent mentor training attracted a large percentage of those invited and now the program is up and running.

The challenges and limitations that used to get people down are still pretty much what they have been, but something has changed. Already people detect a difference in attitudes and climate as they work. People have the skills they need to be the professionals they want to be – mentors and mentees. And those skills go beyond just the job-related skills, to include being more helpful of each other as professional colleagues, to skillfully ask questions, to challenge the status quo practices without injuring the practitioners, and to work together more effectively. The excitement is palpable. The increased support is real. The future is hopeful.

3. Christina Health Care, DelawareKathleen Williamson, Preceptor Coordinator, was hired for this role because of a series of mentoring experiences she had previously. Initially, she attended a conference at which an IMA mentoring expert was speaking. His best practice program models and mentoring strategies were a few of the ways he helped her as she later wrote her masters thesis on “Mentoring in Health Care”. About a year later she sought his help again when she learned of the opening at Christina Health Care, and she needed to design a program proposal to gain that position. Finally, she sought his continued mentoring (after she was hired) for advice on implementation of her mentoring program plan for her new employer and the training of new mentors there.

Her success in mentoring was due to lots of hard work on her part, but also to her personal experiences as a protege. She knew what excellent mentoring felt like on the receiving end, and she valued it and wanted to offer that value to others. In turn, the value she received has been transferred so that, through excellent mentoring, the hospital staff (both new and experienced) have benefited as have the patients they in turn serve. It’s a perfect example of “pass it on” in action.