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Enhance advanced practitioner onboarding through effective mentor programs – Winter 2015

By Jenna Thayer, MA, FASPR, Physician Recruiter, Mercy Health West Michigan

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that from 2012 to 2022, the number of nurse practitioner roles will grow 33 percent and physician assistant jobs will increase 38 percent. As such, successful onboarding of these individuals is imperative.

A few years ago, Mercy Health built and implemented an onboarding and mentorship program for advanced practitioners, which now provides onboarding structure and support for new hires. In their first year of employment, each advanced practitioner is assigned a mentor - either a physician or another senior advanced practitioner. The mentorship relationship extends throughout the entire first year of employment and includes structured one-on-one meetings to cover such topics as patient flow, EHR, schedules, patients, productivity, coding, performance, staff, referrals and clinical issues. The mentorship process contributes to improved provider retention, patient experience, productivity, engagement and team dynamics.

We surveyed 48 advanced practitioners to obtain feedback on our onboarding and mentorship program. Survey participants shared four main insights regarding onboarding and mentorship, which may provide ideas and dialogue for your organization.

  1. Create and enhance the mentoring relationship
    Creating a mentorship program for new advanced practitioners allows for knowledge transfer, support, feedback and connectivity with both the team and organization. We received significant positive feedback from our advanced practitioners about the benefits of this relationship. One respondent said, “The mentorship allowed for focused, separate time to review how things were going and to fit in among competing demands of new employment.” Regarding the support the mentor provides, one advanced practitioner mentioned, “It is nice to be able to discuss concerns with someone who has been in my shoes.”
    Involving a mentor as part of the onboarding program provides a point person for questions or concerns. At Mercy Health, we have typically chosen the lead physician, supervising physician or another advanced practitioner within the department to be the mentor. The overwhelmingly positive feedback we have received highlights the value a mentor affords new advanced practitioners.

    Since many physicians and advanced practitioners have not received training on how to be a mentor, organizations may also choose to create a development program for current and future mentors. By assisting these clinicians, they may become more effective and confident in their mentorship role. A mentor/mentee guidebook may act as a useful tool as well, where expectations are clearly delineated and agreed upon.

  2. Provide increased feedback
    Several responses to our survey mentioned the need for increased feedback in the first year of employment, with dedicated time for that dialogue. Increased feedback may be provided through structured, recurring meetings. Concentrated time for open discussion of performance allows for honest dialogue, rather than simply skimming the surface. New advanced practitioners, like many of us, have a desire for performance feedback. This helps them know where to improve and how they should build their practices within the health system. One advanced practitioners commented that the structured feedback, “…lets me know which things I have done right and which I can do better to be more efficient.” Another advanced practitioners commented, “Meeting regularly gives the opportunity to discuss problems and issues before they become big.” By adding more feedback and even a structured performance review in the first 3-6 months, advanced practitioners will know the status of their initial performance and where they need to concentrate their energy and time.

  3. Ensure structure and consistency
    Creating and applying consistency across the organization within an onboarding program will give all new advanced practitioners the opportunity to actualize the program’s benefits. Developing a structure, schedule and guidebook for the program is critical. This tool provides clarity on the expectations and a guide to assist mentors and mentees. The structure may be reinforced through regular refresher trainings or reminders for mentors. Emphasize the value of the structured meetings to the mentor and the practice or department manager to help ensure the program elements are occurring in all areas. Due to the busy schedule of providers, it may be best to schedule the meetings over lunch or prior to patient care time.

    Some survey respondents mentioned a lack of structured mentor meetings, “We did not really schedule regular meetings. We had interaction on a regular basis, which was nice, but meetings would have also been beneficial.” Having scheduled meetings allows time for feedback, support and questions. One advanced practitioner stated, “While I have direct contact and interaction with my mentor frequently, I would appreciate time set aside for one-on-one meetings.” Enhancing the consistency, structure and schedule of the mentorship meetings is pivotal to all new advanced practitioners receiving optimal time with their mentor.

  4. Build connections to other advanced practitioners
    An additional recommendation from the survey was to have an avenue to meet other advanced practitioners within the organization. One participant stated, “Having someone in a more similar position would help with the transition. It would provide someone to talk with who fully understands what [it] means to be an advanced practitioner in the organization.” Since receiving these comments, Mercy Health has begun supplying each new provider with a list of the advanced practitioners throughout the organization, which includes their location, specialty and contact information. This simple step enhances the organization’s social and supportive atmosphere.

    By establishing regular development opportunities, advanced practitioners will be better equipped to learn and socialize together. Not only do they benefit from the education, but also from the opportunity to interact with colleagues across specialties and settings. A less formal alternative, which could provide similar value, would be hosting social events for advanced practitioners to meet, share experiences, ideas and words of advice. Establishing a sense of community is important from both a practical and personal perspective. Employees who feel connected and supported in the workplace are more likely to perform better and stay with the organization longer.