The importance of mentoring
At critical times in my career, I have benefitted from the wisdom provided by my mentors.
Those with experience and objectivity have guided me through challenges. One mentor in particular assisted me as a struggling new study coordinator, helped train me to become a CRA and served as my line manager for several years. Her kindness inspired me to continue to pay it forward and make myself available to any colleague seeking assistance—through a difficult professional decision, work-related issue or guidance with career development. Whether my proverbial ear was lent for the seemingly smallest confidence or a larger site problem, I have tried to provide guidance to the best of my ability.
The most impactful mentoring programs are employer sponsored, within either the brick and mortar or virtual workplace, and have structured communication and documented processes to ensure monitoring consistency. They should be run by an organized group of senior CRAs, project/study managers and senior staff chosen not just for their extensive industry experience, but also for their desire to share it. Anyone with an established skill set can demonstrate that skill set. More than training, true mentoring is the willingness to provide assistance across the spectrum—from small to intense need, training, correspondence, empathy and empowerment. There also is transparency in communication and expectation.
These diverse elements form a fully dimensional process that allows participants to collaborate and engage, as opposed to merely attend. In this dynamic there is reciprocity in learning between teacher and student, in which both parties contribute and receive knowledge. No one is subordinate in the process, which ensures a balanced connection.
In the past year, I have reconnected with two CRAs I previously mentored, one through social media and one in person. It was a privilege to participate in their career development. Each uniquely benefitted from the structure of the employer-sponsored mentoring program.
I was assigned to mentor one CRA who was relatively new to monitoring. I was her second mentor; her original mentor did not anticipate the level of need of an inexperienced CRA. It was not an appropriate pairing. The CRA was inquisitive and bright. Her questions were thoughtful, plentiful and appropriate to her experience level. I adopted the process for mentoring new CRAs, as per the mentoring program constraints, and scheduled weekly telephone calls to discuss her needs—site assignments, site management, travel and expense questions, in whatever area she requested guidance. We spoke weekly, then biweekly, then monthly over a four-month period. She became more confident and autonomous as a result. She “graduated” the program successfully and several years later became a mentor herself. I began our first meeting with simple, yet impactful words: “I am here to help you with whatever you need.” It set a positive tone that exemplified mentoring at its simplest form, assistance and empathy.
Another CRA I mentored was experienced but new to the company. I had the auspicious responsibility of observing and signing him off for independent monitoring, as well as mentoring him through new employee assimilation. He required much less interaction due to his experience level, and so I applied the process for mentoring experienced CRAs. After several introductory meetings, our conversation frequency progressed to an “as needed” basis. The mentoring process lasted six weeks. However, this CRA truly benefitted and received exactly what he needed from the mentoring process, because I recognized his experience level and respected his expectations. I did not adopt a cookie-cutter mentoring process that would have undermined his experience. After completing the process, we remained friends while both employed by the company.
The circumstances of these mentoring examples, and their positive outcomes, speak to the benefits of a workplace sponsored mentoring program. The byproduct for the participating employees is that it boosts morale and drives career development. For the employer, the byproducts include organizational progress driven by that career development and employee loyalty and retention.
E lizabeth Blair Weeks-Rowe, LVN, CCRA, has spent nearly 14 years in a variety of clinical research roles including CRA, CRA trainer, CRA manager and business development director. She has written and edited newsletters for several CROs, created training curriculum for CRA/clinical research educational and training programs and is a contributing writer to several research publications. She currently works in relationship development/study startup in the CRO industry.
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