By Dava Stewart
There are various points in the trajectory of your career when you will need someone to offer guidance. Soon after graduation, opening a new practice and during growth periods are all times that most DCs find that they need advice.
For most people, figuring out where to turn for advice can be difficult. Perhaps the simplest, most straightforward action is to hire someone; but, you have a different relationship with a person you are paying for advice than you do with someone who freely offers it. One is a consultant, while the other is a mentor.
Successful practitioners often turn to both consultants and mentors throughout their careers. Just as there are books, apps, equipment, tools and materials that can help your practice serve your patients, consultants and mentors are important resources. A clear understanding of the role of each may help you know which you need and when you need them.
A consultant is in the business of offering advice for a fee. When you hire a consultant, you are paying for expertise, experience and guidance.
There are times when a consultant is critical. For example, if you are planning to purchase an electronic health records (EHR) system, you have a series of decisions to make. A consultant can help you break the entire process down into steps so that you can evaluate, test and decide on the best product for your practice.
There are many types of consultants, and they are experts in various areas. A professional organizer is a consultant with specific expertise, as is an accountant. Your relationship with a consultant will be professional and likely tightly focused on one area of your career or practice. It is usually fairly easy to find consultants because they work hard to make sure they are visible to potential clients.
Mentors, on the other hand, are unpaid, and offer a much broader type of advice. They can also be more difficult to find because the mentor-mentee relationship often evolves organically. Although many people equate the need for a mentor with inexperience, having a mentor is helpful at many stages of your career.
A good mentor will be someone who is successful and also a few years ahead of you. If you opened your practice five years ago, you will want a mentor who has been operating successfully for 10-15 years. If you want to move from patient care to education, you’ll want to find a mentor who made that transition successfully and is doing the work you want to do.
Mentors help mentees think about things from a different perspective. Using the example of purchasing a new EHR system, a mentor is likely to help you see how such a large purchase can fit into the context of your business overall, rather than looking at only one part of it.
The relationship between you and your mentor is far more likely to have an element of personal friendship than that between you and a consultant you hire.
One final difference is that mentors are often in it for the long term. Many mentor-mentee relationships last for years, whereas a consultant is usually hired for a specific period of time.
Studies of successful people in a variety of industries have shown that having a mentor can make a difference in the overall shape of a career. Seeking a mentor may seem like a daunting task, but it is well worth the effort.