Here’s the final podcast on tips for mental health professionals. Make sure you listen to the first two episodes, Tips & Pointers for Mental Health Professionals and Good Self-Care and Being Aware! Tips for Early-Career Psychiatrists. This episode focuses on the issue of mentoring. As you advance in your career, medical students, pre-med students, college students, or psychology graduate students will ask you if you would be their mentor. Here are some tips to help you in mentoring.
Summary of Episode 003: Mentoring, Time Management, and Self-Care
It takes courage to ask someone to mentor you. Give young people credit for that and acknowledge the fact that they did put themselves out there.
Be selective when it comes to deciding who to mentor. There’s a lot of work in the mentor-mentee relationship. Ask why they want you to mentor them and what they hope to get out of the relationship.
Do everything you can to support your mentees in their goals. We can solve some of these larger systemic issues by encouraging the best and brightest students to go into mental health careers.
You are the one who sets the tone for how the mentoring relationship is going to work. Take your role as a mentor very seriously and have the students you work with take their role as mentees very seriously.
Respect the time of your own mentors. Remember that they are taking time away from their families and businesses to help you.
Keep mints or gum on hand for patients who have bad breath. You spend a lot of time close to your patients and it helps if both of you have fresh breath.
Set a timer when doing mundane tasks like dictating progress notes. Make sure that during that time for that 30 minutes or hour that you are not going to be doing anything else other than your task. You can use the online countdown at e.ggtimer.com or set the timer on your smartphone.
Think about the role you want your cell phone to have in your life. It may not be such a good thing to be accessible all the time.
Try disconnecting completely when on vacation. It gives you time to do things that put your mental health first.
Avoid intimate relationships with colleagues or another trainee or student. Sometimes it is inappropriate and sometimes it’s illegal and sometimes just not a good idea.
Be very careful to whom you refer patients. If you are a psychiatrist, you are ultimately responsible for the care of patients you refer for therapy.
You may not want to take every patient who calls your office or clinic requesting care. Even when a patient is able to pay, may be emotional cost and a lot of extra work in terms of your own mental health if the person isn’t a good fit for you.
Always remember that you are the best role model for your patients in terms of making good self-care and good mental health a priority. Patients want a model for how they too can put their mental health first.
This podcast doesn’t replace legal or medical consultation. You need to consult with an attorney and/or a physician or your professional licensing board in your state or area to determine what is most appropriate for your practice.
Dr. Mel does offer mental health career consultation. You can go to clarity.fm/mwatkinsmd to learn more.
Transcript of Episode 003: Mentoring, Time Management, and Self Care
Here’s the final podcast on tips for mental health professionals. I hope you got a chance to listen to the other two episodes about ways in which you can put your mental health first and starting out in your mental health career.
Something that comes up from time to time is a person who is not as experienced as you will ask you to be their mentor. You’ll find that the more experienced you are or seasoned, that’s the other term that we like to use, and the more that you advance in your career. They’ll be medical students or pre-med students or perhaps college students or psychology graduate students, who will ask you if you would be their mentor. Of course, you would want to encourage them for thinking about mentorship because it’s so important and many of us have been mentored. Our mentors played a huge role in what we ultimately became in our careers. However, again, your time being your most important daily asset. You have to be very careful how you choose to use your time.
I’ll share a little bit of information about how I deal with this, especially if someone who has lectured all across the country about mentorship. I’ve spoken at University of Alaska Anchorage and Northwestern University. I’ve spoken at Stanford. I’ve spoken at University of Nevada, Reno. I’ve talked with young people about holding onto their dreams and overcoming the obstacles and moving forward with their career goals. I always, always, always mention mentorship. “Go out there and get a mentor.” It takes some guts and some courage, of course, to talk with someone who is pretty much a stranger or somebody you don’t know very well, but someone who has more experience than you do and to ask them to be your mentor. I want to give young people credit for that and acknowledge the fact that they did put themselves out there. They were vulnerable and they asked for me to help them out. They like something about me and what I’m doing, what I’m sharing, who I am, that they want to emulate. That they want to take in as part of themselves and move forward in their career goals.
Of course, I only have so many hours in the day and I learned that I have to be super selective when it comes to deciding who I’m going to mentor. One of the things that I do is I have students commit to being a mentee. I have them earn the mentorship relationship. What do I mean by that? Again, I am one of the strongest advocates of mentoring and I’m the product of such great mentoring over the years. As much courage as it takes for someone to ask for mentor, there’s also a lot of work in the mentor-mentee relationship and I choose that role very carefully. I give a lot to that role as mentor. I want students to know that if I’m going to be their mentor, it’s going to require that we check in at least quarterly, but sometimes it’s more often and that depending on if they are applying to medical school or applying for residency.
There’s times when we have to meet a little more regularly, but that I’m going to be giving them things that I want them to work on and I want them to be responsive. If I give them an article to read or if they are giving me an essay to give them feedback on, I want to know how they incorporated some of the suggestions that I made. I wanted to really be an active, evolving relationship or it’s not just we touched base randomly every now and then. It’s going to be very structured.
One of the things that I do to make sure that they really want to be mentored by me is I ask them why they want me to be their mentor and what they hope to get out of the relationship and what’s their schedule like. Are they able to commit to meeting at these times? Meeting monthly or quarterly. Depending on, again, where they’re at in their training. I want to know more about what they hope to get out of the relationship. I found that over time some students feel a little bit intimidated by that. They just think, “Well, maybe I don’t really want her to be my mentor.” Because they know I’m going to hold them to task and I take it very, very seriously.
The mentees that I have now will definitely tell you that I’m very involved as a mentor and I want to be informed in what’s going on because I take a lot of pride in my mentees moving forward in their careers. Especially if they are interested in becoming psychiatrist, I get so excited about that. I want to do everything I can to support them in their goals because I think some of the best and brightest student should be considering course in psychiatry. I feel that that’s going to be how we make a larger, bigger difference in mental health systems as a whole and how we can solve some of these larger systemic issues is by encouraging people to go into mental health careers. It’s a major reason why I started this podcast and this blog is because I feel so passionately about this.
My mentees know that I feel that way. They know that if they’re going to be working with me that they’re going to have some additional homework and things to work on, and we are going to be having very intimate ongoing relationship. Think about that when you are asked to be a mentor.
Think about how you want the relationship to be because you being the more seasoned or experienced person in the relationship, you are going to be the one who is going to set the tone for how the relationship is going to work. Again, this is your opportunity to impart some wisdom, some knowledge, some pearls, as we call them clinical pearls. Wisdom that can really impact future generations and take that role very seriously and have students who you work with take that role as a mentee very seriously. That can really lead to the most impactful, meaningful relationship over time. I’m still in contact with many of my mentors from when I was in college.
One of my closest mentors is a woman named Alice Heiman who really looked out for me when I was 19 years old and I was a teen mom. I wrote about her in my book, Taking My Medicine, my journey from teenage mother to physician. That book is available in amazon.com if any of you are interested in reading my memoir. She made a such an impact on me when I was a young person and she still mentors me today. She does have suggestions that I follow-up on. I let her know. I try this out. This worked well. This didn’t work so well. There are some back and forth. I really value the wisdom and experience because I know she can make a lot of money in her business by providing the coaching and consultation that she provides to me for free. I respect her time tremendously. I know what she is giving me is something that is so meaningful that I really can’t place a price tag on it. It’s just that valuable to me. I’m very respectful of her time because I know she is a busy woman.
When she takes that time out to mentor me and coach me, I know that she is taking time from her family or other things she could be doing with her business and so I honor that relationship. Again, when you take on a mentee, you want to think about this person being in your life for the long-term possibly and also that it’s really much more of a significant relationship than just, “Oh, I want to have a mentor—So-and-So might work, might be a good fit.” That kind of thing. I don’t look at the mentor-mentee relationship in a very casual way. This is my personal feeling on this and I love to get your input and comments about this on yourmentalhealthfirst.com
This really isn’t a mental health professionals tip. It’s just a general tip, but I think it’s super important. I’ve always told my son, Jonathan, that if someone offers him a mint or gum, take it, because folks will rarely tell you if you have bad breath. Consider keeping mints or gum on hand just in case you don’t feel like being blunt, but it’s a good idea in general because we spent a lot of time being close to our patients. I just want to have pleasant breath. I usually keep gum or mints with me. It’s really nice too on a plane. I fly around a lot sometimes for work, sometimes for pleasure. It’s just a nice gesture. When I’m seated on the plane, I will usually pull out some gum and I’ll offer it to the people seated next to me who are in my row. Sometimes the pressure of the fight and so forth, the gum can be helpful. It’s just a nice gesture and I like the idea of all of us feeling connected. It’s just a nice way to be kind to people and also good to yourself.
Sometimes I’ll even tell them that joke about my relationship for Jonathan and how I would tell him, if someone offers him gum to take it and will have like a little laugh about that. If they have children too, they’ll laugh with me about that one. I just think it’s a good idea to keep mint or gum on hand.
Another tip is to use a free resource like e.ggtimer.com. It’s easy to get distracted, especially when things are winding down and it’s hard to do the mundane process or task of entering notes. Usually, on the inpatient unit, the structure of the day in the morning usually would have a meeting. We talk with the nursing staff and get sign out or report from the nurses.
Primarily, I would work on getting the discharges taken care off and seeing some of the new patients and seeing the follow-up patients and dealing with any emergencies or acute issues that would come up in the unit. Then, the afternoon would mostly involve me documenting what occurred earlier on the day. Dictating discharge summaries or psychiatric evaluations or progress notes. This would be when I would have my slump. It would be after a lunch time and it’s kind of mundane just putting a notes into the computer or jotting down notes by hand.
I found that setting a timer was really, really helpful. I would set this timer using e.gg.timer.com or even just choose the timer on your smartphone and make sure that during that time for that 30 minutes or hour that you are not going to be doing anything else other than your task. You can have a little reward or treat at the end of that task. For me, my little reward or treat would be to wander over to the break room and I can talk with some of the other staff who are working there or maybe have a little coffee or some tea. Then, I’d come back and do some more work. I set the timer and do some more work for an hour. Setting that clock on e.ggtimer.com for the amount of time that I went and to work on my notes was really helpful. I would pat myself on the back and give myself a little treat for doing 30 minutes or an hour of work, of uninterrupted documenting time.
Now, when my mother first got us a cell phone years ago, I could never reach her and it would frustrate me so much and I would tell her, “You never have your cell phone on. I can’t reach you. Why do you even have a cell phone?” When I asked her why sincerely, I asked her why do you not have your cell phone on, she said, “Oh, this phone is for my convenience, not yours.” Those of you who have heard me talk about my mom or those of you who know my mom, know that she can be very blunt and to the point. Some of you may have read about her in my book, Taking My Medicine, which she was telling the truth. That’s real talk. This is hard to hear, but she had a really good point. Do you need to have your phone on 24/7? Think about what role you want your cell phone to have in your life.
It’s maybe not such a good thing to be accessible all the time. I don’t think it’s a good model for patients. I don’t think it’s good for boundaries. I don’t think that it’s very healthy to constantly be vigilant and get these alerts, notifications and alarms, and constantly looking the text messages. I don’t think that it’s the healthiest thing for us to be that available all the time. I don’t want people to think that I’m available all the time. Again, consider using airplane mode or do not disturb and think about times that you might just want to have your cell phone off.
When I’m spending time with my husband in the evening and I’m unwinding, sometimes I will just have my cell phone off and my son knows and my mom knows and my sister knows. My close friends know that they can reach my husband if they need to reach me, but chances are they are not going to go through the process of trying to text or call my husband to reach me. They probably going to know that, “Gee, Melanie is probably had a pretty long day and just needs some time to unwind.” I also do this on vacation. I love disconnecting on vacation for a while. It’s not to say that I don’t do social media. Sometimes along vacation I do, but I definitely I’m less available than I am when I’m at home in California. I like being able to have that break, especially on a cruise ship.
I just got back from an amazing cruise to the Turkey and Greece. I loved being unavailable for part of it. I love the fact that I was on the cruise ship and that it will be really, really expensive for someone to call me on the cruise ship. That was the barrier for people to not be able to access me and for me to spend some time doing some things to put my mental health first. I read some books that I was looking for to reading. I watched some comedies that I really enjoyed and I got a chance to exercise and get massaged and not have to worry about cell phone messages and not responding to people right away. Just think about that. Remember the words of my mom. “The phone is for my convenience, not yours.” Think about who you are trying to make the phone convenient for. Are you trying to make it more convenient for other people to reach you or you want to make it convenient for you to be able to reach out if you need to reach someone? Think about that.
Also, try to do your best to avoid intimate relationships with colleagues or another trainee or student. Sometimes it is inappropriate and sometimes it’s illegal and sometimes just not a good idea. If things don’t work out, you or the other person might have to look for a new job or training program. There could be legal or ethical consequences. At a minimum, even if it’s ethical, if things don’t work out, you will likely have some level of awkwardness. Yes, it could work out, but in the words of Chris Rock, “When you date someone, you are either going to break up or get married.” Now, which do you think is more likely to happen?
The next tip is be very careful to whom you refer patients. Do your best to screen other professionals. Listen to the feedback that your patients give you if they have a good or not so good experience. This is very important. You might find out that a colleague has some availability, but who you refer to is sometimes your reflection on yourself, and so that person doesn’t have a good experience, they might think, “Hmm. I wonder what it is that Dr. Watkins thought about me that she set me to that person? Or why is this person saying something that I don’t think Dr. Watkins would agree with?” Again, remember as psychiatrist, if you are a psychiatrist, we are ultimately responsible for the care of whom we choose to refer patients to for therapy. Keep that in mind. You may decide that you want to only work closely with certain therapist that you know and trust, who keep you posted on how your patients are doing.
Also too, you might think about when you have openings in your practice, which kind of patients might be sent your way. I had a colleague who sent me a very challenging patient and wasn’t really forthcoming as far as some of the struggles that this patient had and ended up being pretty difficult to work with this person and also to transfer the care. I learned a lot from that experience. I learned better questions to ask, the referring colleague, and also setting ground rules for my care of that patient. Also too, just keep that in mind that even though you might be starting out and you want to build your practice. You might feel very open to whoever is sent in your way. You have to think about the referral source who that person is coming from because if that person had a long relationship with the previous mental health provider, then you have to consider that in your work with the patient. You might have your own style which might be very different from who the person is coming from. There might be some personality issues that came up that led that colleague to send the patient in your way. You have to be very careful with that.
Also too, you may not want to take every patient who calls your office or clinic requesting care. You are not obligated to in an outpatient setting. Inpatient, it’s very, very different. Psych emergency, it’s very, very different. You may not have to assume care of that patient. There may be some reasons why it may not be a good fit. Even though this person might financially be able to pay your rate and they are very committed and they are going to see you weekly for the next six months and pre-pay you for all of those visits. Even though, financially, that might seem beneficial, but there may be emotional cost and a lot of extra work in terms of your own mental health that might make that not such a great idea. Think about that and think very carefully before you decide to assume care of a patient. Think about what else is going to be involved and also the previous care that they received.
Always remember that you are the best role model for your patients in terms of making good self-care and good mental health a priority. Your patients will pick up on a fact that you are stressed, you are overwhelmed or you seem flustered or hurried. You want to demonstrate that you take care of yourself, you love yourself, you make your mental health a priority. You make your physical health a priority. You have good boundaries. You are appropriately assertive. You have good communication. You provide yourself with good self-care. Always remember that patients will be looking at you in how you treat your own life and will be wanting to model for how they too can put their mental health first. Keep that in mind. Again, that’s something that’s not really spoken, but it’s kind of unspoken in a way and that it’s communicated even without a frank discussion about it.
I also have to let you know that all of the mental health tips and pointers that I’ve given you, this episode and the previous two episodes. These are solely my opinion. This doesn’t replace legal or medical consultation. Of course, you need to consult with an attorney and/or a physician or your professional licensing board in your state or area to determine what is most appropriate for your practice. These are just general thoughts and feelings that I have based on my experiences and training. You might want to get some more consultation from people who are in your specific field as far as how they conduct themselves and how they run their practices. Part of the reason why I started this podcast and this website is that I wanted there to be more discussion and exchange in dialogue about some of these issues that come up that just aren’t addressed during training. Again, I really want the best and brightest students to go onto mental health careers. I think that’s going to be how we change the mental health system overall.
If you are inspired by this and you want to learn a little bit more about mental health careers, I’m happy to talk about that, to blog about that, to tweet about that, to have podcast about that. Perhaps in the future, if there’s interest, I can have guest who can share their perspectives in being licensed marriage family therapist or a licensed clinical social worker or a psychologist or other psychiatrist and talk about their perspectives. I just want to get really good dialogue and discussion going so we can talk more about resources that are available to you.
Also too, I want you to know that I do offer mental health career consultation. You can go to clarity.fm/mwatkinsmd to learn more. That’s all for this episode. I thank you for listening and looking forward to hearing more about you and your practice on yourmentalhealthfirst.com.