The Importance of Developing Mentor-Mentee Relationships During School

At the University of New Mexico, Department of Physical Therapy, faculty, staff, and students all understand the rigor of the program and how much of an adjustment it can be to start a doctorate graduate program.  It doesn’t matter if the student came directly from undergrad, from a different graduate program, or took time off between prior schooling and PT school; there is always an adjustment period and a learning curve for any change.

We’ve developed a mentor-mentee program for all incoming students who are offered the opportunity to request having a mentor from the class above.  Both mentors (soon to be second year students) and mentees (incoming first year students) fill out a questionnaire about interests, hobbies, and schooling background, and based on the responses, we pair people who have similar interests and we feel will be able to connect outside of PT school.

Throughout the program, mentors are there to provide advice and support to their mentee, and to be another familiar face outside of their own classmates. In my personal experience, having a mentor made me less nervous about starting the program, and it gave me someone in the class above to look up to if I ever felt overly stressed or anxious about upcoming exams.  It was also somebody who I could ask about tips for classes, certain professors, or even exams and quizzes.

Mentors go beyond our student program.  Our professors are all mentors to us every day, both inside and outside the classroom.  They are always available to offer advice or answer questions via email, or if we’re lucky, we can catch them in their office when they’re not teaching or in clinic.  We have a strong and close bond with every professor in our program that make it easy to look up to them as role models and mentors, which, in turn, makes it easy to reach out whenever we need assistance in classes or advice on a patient we see in clinic.

In our student-led clinic, REACH, a handful of our professors participate as the licensed Physical Therapist when we see and treat patients.  They guide us when we’ve hit a roadblock or jump at an opportunity to teach us new techniques during an examination.  Based on their years of experience, they also offer new and creative exercises to use with our patients, or how to simplify an explanation for a patient.

We also form mentorships with our clinical instructors who guide us in a more practical and hands on way with patients in the clinic.  During my first rotation, my clinical instructor helped me to grow and improve my skills in physical therapy, but more importantly, she taught me how to think outside the box and to get creative with treatment ideas.  I always looked up to her and she was always there to offer advice or to encourage me to struggle on my own so that I could learn from my mistakes or work through a problem, which I always thought was even more valuable.

We are surrounded by mentors every day, even if we don’t necessarily realize it.  It helps us to grow as students, future physical therapists, and life-long learners.  We learn how to learn from other physical therapists’ and appreciate their styles and experience, and some of these mentors will continue to mentor us beyond our school years.

by Lisa Peterkin, SPT