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FAANP: Mentoring Groups — An Efficient Form of Mentorship With Great Potential

Headshot of AANP Fellow Mary Jo Goolsby at a podium

Hear from Mary Jo Goolsby, EdD, MSN, NP-C, a Fellow of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners® (FAANP), as she discusses how mentoring groups can be used for professional development.

Previously, I described opposite ends of a mentorship spectrum — the FAANP Mentorship Program, involving one-to-one mentor-mentee dyads, and the Pink Mentor Network, devoted to professional development of its members while providing opportunities for more granular mentorships to emerge. This time, I want to describe mentoring groups, which fit somewhere in between those. This is on my mind, as I am in the process of planning to facilitate my first mentoring group, using the remote, virtual interaction that we have become more comfortable with during the past few months.

A mentoring group, as the name implies, involves a group of some number of “mentees” with at least one mentor or facilitator. These are also known as Mentor Circles or Mentor Rings. A variation of mentoring groups is “peer mentoring,” where the participant mentees have a formal commitment to contribute to one another’s development, albeit without a designated mentor. More recently, the term “Master Mind” or “Mastermind” has been used to describe mentoring groups, based on a description by Napoleon Hill almost 100 years ago. A Mastermind group often is made up of individuals who commit to the development of one or all participants, either with or without a formal mentor’s involvement. If you have heard me talk about leadership and mentorship, you have probably heard me mention Hill, as his work has influenced so many of the contemporary thought leaders and remains evergreen. Perhaps it is not surprising that this label is now being applied to group mentorship arrangements. Regardless, it is not important to become too attached to one definition for each designation, as the literature and organizers are inconsistent in the models described under a given term. The consistent points that make a model “mentoring” is that all participants commit to supporting each other, they individually establish professional development goals and they strive to reach their goals.

For Fellows who regularly mentor others, the concept of a mentoring group has great potential. Mentoring groups can be very efficient, as one mentor contributes to the development of multiple mentees at a given time. There are other advantages beyond efficiency. For instance, this model promotes the mentees’ growth by having them contribute to one another’s development — serving as a peer mentor. Conversely, mentoring group participants each receive varied perspectives on their goals and actions, as they hear both from their peers and formal mentor.

Of course, challenges include the potential that some mentees may not benefit as well from the group approach as a one-to-one mentorship. There also may be logistical challenges when a group is involved. Even with virtual meetings, the availability of all participants must be supported through clear and consistent planning up front. With multiple participants, there is less flexibility in when a mentoring session is held, once all agree upon the plan. In order for the full value of a group to be realized, the mentor must promote engagement by all that is consistent with a mature level of commitment and accountability by each participant.

Strategies can be used to promote positive outcomes, beginning with participant selection. Selection criteria must be established based on the overarching purpose you hope to achieve. Whether you put out a call for participation or field a brief questionnaire, this step is important to solicit appropriate candidates for the group and to optimize their engagement and progression.

For instance, if your goal is to promote role transition for newly prepared nurse practitioners (NPs), recency of completion would be relevant, as well as their current type of setting. Of course, applicants would need to establish that their goal was also for role transition. In my case, I hope to help participants enhance the leadership skills of NPs, so I will require some amount of NP experience; beyond the years and type of NP practice experience, information will be needed on applicants’ interest in select leadership skills, their goals for participation, etc.

Regardless of the focus area, groups of four to eight participants are recommended. Once interested individuals are identified, the number may be narrowed by their ability to participate for the duration, which is usually six to 12 months, and on specified dates and times. A commitment would be needed to actively pursue their own personal growth, complete any agreed-upon “homework" and contribute to that of their peers. Scheduling a brief telephone or virtual meeting with each person will allow for expectations to be discussed and for their questions to be answered.

So, this is how I will “spend my summer vacation,” as I plan for my first foray into formalized group mentoring. I cannot think of a more rewarding way to pay forward all the opportunities I have been given than to mentor others. Plus, the new twist presents a challenge to broaden my reach in an efficient manner that I hope will prove highly successful. A brief list of online resources regarding mentoring groups is provided below — primarily from grey literature. There is little research on actual non-employee mentorship; I am including one reference reporting descriptive results from a brief Mastermind program for emergency medicine faculty. Perhaps I can contribute more evidence and outcomes in the future!

References and Resources

This article first appeared in the FAANP Forum, Vol. 11, Issue 2, in Summer 2020. Thank you to Mary Jo Goolsby for her invaluable assistance!