Leading with Experience

mentorMentorship benefits chiropractors of all ages

From teachers and sports coaches to family members and co-workers, we’ve all undoubtedly had a mentor, or served as one, at one time or another. Through guidance and direction, mentors aim to steer their mentees through a process, whether it be learning a new job, shooting a basketball, or simply living life in general. Because mentors have successfully gained the respect of others through their accomplishments and accolades, others look to them as inspirations.

Like many other professions, the chiropractic community embraces mentorship. From the student-teacher relationship during chiropractic school to veteran chiropractors taking recent graduates under their wings and into their practices, chiropractors benefit greatly from, both as mentors and mentees. “Mentorship provides a crucial segue between the skilled and experienced chiropractor and the passionate and ambitious student,” says Jerome Lubbe, Life University D.C. student and Life Functional Neurology Club President. “The transition from academic to clinical is critical, and as an application-based, patient-driven profession, mentorship is not only important in the chiropractic community, but it is vital.”

What Makes a Good Mentor?

Trustworthy, experienced, supportive—these are all adjectives one would normally attribute to a good mentor. Because chiropractic students look up to their mentors as counselors and teachers, it’s imperative that those who take on this role take it  seriously.

For Lubbe, who had a positive mentorship experience while observing patient care with LIFE’s Distinguished Professor of Clinical Neurology Ted Carrick, D.C., says a mentor’s responsibility extends far beyond teaching. “A good mentor is someone who has a teacher’s heart alongside a commanding presence,” he says. “A good mentor will truly push a student outside of his or her comfort zone personally, professionally, academically and clinically, causing them to evaluate every arena in order to become the best resource for the patients. Mentors, understandably, have the difficult job of trying to share their body of knowledge. Patience is so critical in understanding the difference between the student who lacks the knowledge and one who lacks the desire.”

John Markham, D.C., who oversees the PEAK Clinic Program, which allows senior interns at LIFE to gain experience with an off-campus doctor, sees the benefits good mentors have on their mentees. “The most positive trait is the sincere desire to prepare up-and-coming chiropractors for the disciplines of practice,” he says. “My best mentors combine that passion and purpose with patience and a structured learning experience and hold the interns to a very high standard.”

Advantages for Mentors and Mentees

As a mentee, Lubbe learned quickly that his mentorship experience was invaluable to his chiropractic career, thanks to the direction of his mentor, Carrick. “It is the ‘apprenticeship’ dynamic in which mentorship provides so much for the student,” Lubbe says. “The ability to have [mentors] who are masters of their craft and art share knowledge with you, show you how to avoid mistakes, improve your technique, adjust your mindset and, most importantly, motivate you to be better than they ever were—that is so beneficial.”

While a mentorship has many noticeable benefits to the chiropractic mentee, such as increased confidence and a better understanding of a functioning practice in a real-world setting, the relationship benefits the mentor as well.

For Marc Schneider, D.C., seeing his mentees succeed makes the relationship wholly worthwhile. “Mentors derive a great deal of satisfaction in watching their mentees avoid pitfalls and move toward success at an accelerated pace,” he says. “For me, there is a tremendous amount of pride and satisfaction watching one of the individuals I mentor become successful.”

Another positive effect for the mentor can be a more effective practice. “Mostly, the mentor is rewarded by a sense of satisfaction for giving for the sake of giving,” says Markham. “[PEAK mentors] also tell me that with someone learning from them, it causes them to be extra mindful to be at their best, and as a result, their practices grow because they don’t let themselves slip into bad habits.”

The Dark Side of Mentorship

However, with the good, there is the occasional bad mentorship experience. Unfortunately, in the chiropractic community, there is a perceived risk of chiropractors “eating their young,” or simply taking advantage of new graduates and practitioners.

According to Schneider, examples can include: hiring a new associate and underpaying him or her, using scare tactics to sell services that students or new practitioners don’t need, selling services at inflated prices or charging excessive fees for office space to independent contractors. “While I don’t think that the chiropractic profession is unique in utilizing some of these tactics, it is contrary to what I consider the basic tenants of the profession,” Schneider says.

Schneider notes that some mentors may have some not-so-desirable characteristics. “Poor results can be a result of poor mentorship or failure to follow sound advice,” he says. “If your mentor advocates for ethically or morally questionable practices, you may have chosen poorly.” Other areas to look into include a mentor’s degree of success and sanctioning by the Board of Chiropractic Examiners, as both will help evaluate a mentor’s aptitude for successfully serving a mentee.

Like Schneider, Markham agrees that many of the rare instances of the chiropractic profession preying on new graduates are due to business and financial-related matters. “There are enough horror stories to cause the most optimistic among us to blush,” he says. “Most bad outcomes are the result of poor business and management know-how, and as a result, the younger members end up victimized. There are many highly skilled and wonderfully motivated doctors, and I believe they are in the majority.”

Because of the disconnect between chiropractic care and management and business skills, Markham says many students find themselves in difficult mentorship relationships due to their inability to fully understand and discipline themselves for success. “They often do not know how to properly evaluate offered contracts or negotiate for more of what they want,” he says.

A Bright Future for Chiropractic Mentorship

As with many mentorship relationships in other professions, there will always be the occasional poor experience. However, the good ones definitely outweigh the bad in Chiropractic. And for Lubbe, his mentorship experience will always be a success.

“This process allowed for me to have the tangible firsthand experience that simply is not possible through classroom simulation and academic practice,” Lubbe says. “Whether it was Professor Carrick providing the constructive critique or me personally evaluating my own knowledge based on the care provided, this mentorship and teaching program is the refining and insightful process that we all need as students that will propel us to be the best chiropractors.”

And it is because of these positive mentorship experiences that strides are being made to further implement mentoring programs into the chiropractic community. “While I believe that some state chiropractic associations sponsor and encourage mentor programs, schools and colleges are also developing mentor programs,” says Schneider. “If the experience is positive in college, we hope it will translate into the field.”

One of the most successful mentoring programs is LIFE’s PEAK program, which stands for “Practice, Excellence, Art and Knowledge.” Since its implementation in 2007, the program has enlisted more than 500 credentialed chiropractors to serve as mentors, and students have been placed in 28 states, as well as in four foreign countries. And while the initial pilot program placed only 10 students into mentorship relationships, today the PEAK program places about 150 students each quarter.

While many intern or mentoring programs simply let students observe, the PEAK program, which is made up of LIFE students in their 13th or 14th quarters of study who are in good academic standing, gives students the opportunity to become a valued member of a chiropractic practice and team. Common examples of student requirements include performing examinations and X-rays, and providing chiropractic adjustments.

According to the PEAK program’s page on the Life University website, “The PEAK doctor acts as a mentor to the intern, helping to bridge the gap between the classroom, the college clinic and private practice. In many cases, the PEAK doctor is not only a facilitator in the student intern’s development, but also becomes a lifelong mentor.”

For those young chiropractors looking for mentors outside of a structured program or system, Schneider suggests looking at those closest to you. “Students should look at their family chiropractors, their teachers and professors or individuals they feel demonstrate the qualities they wish to obtain. Choosing a mentor is very important and should be done with great thought and reflection,” he says.

So whether you’re a student looking for a little extra guidance or a veteran chiropractor hoping to make a difference in someone’s career, chiropractors of all ages can have a positive impact on one another’s careers through mentorship, leading to a more knowledgeable and effective chiropractic community.