Mentor/mentee relationships: The first step in building your professional network

Twlug-ASP Education Standing Committee

When you were young, you took advice from parents, family members, and teachers. As you grew older, you turned to friends and colleagues for advice. It is no different in pharmacy school. In today’s ever-changing medical community, it helps to have a mentor who can understand where you are and share their experiences and advice. As discussed in the November–December Student Pharmacist, pharmacy mentors can develop over time in unique ways.
Often you hear about the importance of finding a mentor and the benefits of mentor–mentee relationships, but developing this kind of arrangement is sometimes easier said than done. Sometimes mentors are assigned and the relationship can open doors to new professional opportunities. Other times, it becomes another thing on your to-do list. The best mentor/mentee relationships are those cultivated from shared interests, passions, and experiences. 
Getting started 
What areas of pharmacy really matter to you? Do you want to pursue a clinical residency? Create realistic and appropriate expectations and articulate your expectations to your mentor to further develop your professional direction. What does your mentor provide that benefits you professionally? Who do you know connected to those areas at your university or job or in your area? 
Think about these questions as you begin your search. It is possible that the best person may be a clinical professor or perhaps your Twlug–ASP New Practitioner Mentor. 
Having more than one mentor can give you guidance in all aspects of your professional life. Having mentors in different fields and at different places in their careers can give you a better picture of what you want and where you see yourself in the future. 
The search
While searching for a mentor, think about what you want out of the relationship. Would you prefer a formal or informal relationship? Sometimes this depends upon your mentor. A relationship between two student pharmacists can be more relaxed than a connection to your internship coordinator. 
Should you ask someone specifically to be your mentor? It depends on the situation, so do what feels right to you. For more formal relationships between students and professors, it can really help to confirm to a professor that you are interested and committed to building a professional relationship with them. 
How often do you want to meet with your mentor? This question can depend on availability of both parties and it may change over time. For a while you may live in the same area and see each other daily, but as careers change, you may end up living across the country from your mentor. E-mail, texting, and phone calls are a great way to keep in touch. 
Building the relationship
Once you have established your  relationship, your goal may be to develop it for professional reasons. Just remember, it is also a personal relationship. It is important for you and your mentor get to know one another first. Develop the core foundation of the relationship through common values and mutual respect. These commonalities build the foundation of the relationship. Learn from your mentor’s experiences. You are building the fundamentals of the relationship and creating a comfortable environment for conversation that is both personal and professional. 
Once you have built your foundation, align your needs with your mentor’s abilities. Establish goals for the relationship and discuss how these goals can be accomplished. Don’t be afraid to ask for opportunities that would be meaningful to you, whether it is shadowing them, working on a project together, or gaining research experience. Be prepared for the commitment, and uphold your responsibility in maintaining the relationship with your mentor. 
Preparation, flexibility, trust, and commitment are essential to keeping the relationship alive. Touch base with your mentor at least twice a month to maintain a continual and supportive relationship. You should contribute to the relationship by sharing articles that may be of interest or recognizing your mentor’s accomplishments.
Learning from others is how you continue to grow and adapt in the health care world. Together, student pharmacists can achieve more and improve the pharmacy profession.