Successful mentoring relationships impart valued perspective that sticks with mentees for life, and for Quy Nguyen, O.D., that bit of truth was this: Even the most seasoned mentors are still figuring it out as they go along.
"The important trait I noticed from the successful professionals whom I've worked with is that they aren't perfect, but they have a commitment and willingness to be lifelong learners, and they strive to become the best versions of themselves possible," Dr. Nguyen says.
That commitment to lifelong learning is a characteristic Dr. Nguyen now espouses himself. As director of career development at State University of New York (SUNY) College of Optometry, Dr. Nguyen oversees the school's Family of Mentors Program (FMP). Available to third- and fourth-year students, and residents, the FMP incorporates SUNY's online alumni platform to pair mentors and mentees. Currently, 295 alumni and other New York State Optometric Association members are accessible to more than 100 mentees.
The FMP—as all mentoring relationships—gives students and new doctors access to established, working professionals who can deliver insights that normally take years of experience to gain, Dr. Nguyen says. That makes it advantageous for a profession such as optometry.
"Mentoring can help students not only prepare for their working careers but also build their networks instantaneously," he says. "Additionally, due to the legislative nature of our profession, it is a great opportunity for AOA and state associations to have their members not only give back, but also, in the process, nurture a prospective member.
"Mentoring, itself, is valuable to any ambitious student, but particularly in a profession like optometry, it is extremely important."
Helpful mentoring tips
But beyond the all-critical component of building and maintaining that mentor-mentee relationship, successful mentors deliver advice that helps mentees navigate their academic and career decisions. Mentors should provide recommendations and opinions based on sound information that is in the mentee's best interest.
Gina Wesley, O.D., recalls mentors throughout her scholastic and professional career that positioned her for success-mentors such as advisor Kelly Nichols, O.D., at The Ohio State University College of Optometry, or AOA Vice President Barbara L. Horn, O.D., whose start-up story became a roadmap of sorts. Dr. Wesley offers several mentoring tips:
- Make sure the mentoring relationship is meaningful for both mentor and mentee by discussing expectation for both, she notes. Would they prefer to connect monthly, more often or less? What does each hope to gain from the relationship?
- Mentors should understand what they feel comfortable sharing. "I think it's important that the mentor/mentee aren't in a possible competitive situation professionally so that information shared is genuine and complete," Dr. Wesley writes.
- Mentees benefit from the knowledge of the mentor, so being respectful and realizing that different mentors bring different values and qualities to the relationship is important. "Although mentors can help identify weaknesses, I personally feel that life and professional coaching is better served to address weaknesses, while mentoring should be focused on sharing the mentor's knowledge, experience and strengths to mentees," Dr. Wesley notes.
In a virtual kick-off, the AOA launches Leadership Institute with 130 doctors of optometry from across the country. A project of the AOA Leadership Development Committee, the Institute is a yearlong program designed to grow and support the next generation of leaders in the profession.
At the 2021 Leaders Summit, AOA-member volunteers set priorities for the year and launched new initiatives to lead the profession forward.