Mentoring: the Art of Today’s Leaders Advancing the Leaders of Tomorrow

How did you develop your expertise? Cultivate your knowledge?  Refine a particular skill?  To each of those questions I can point to the influence of a mentor, someone with a wealth of experience who has provided me with guidance, teaching, and wisdom.  The MCH traineeship is an ideal setting that facilitates trainee mentorship from past and current leaders, many of whom were trainees themselves.  As a trainee, I am mentored at different levels across varied environments, but it is always continuous.  In my experience, the mentor will model behaviors to be demonstrated and practiced and then further developed through professional practice. The traineeship is unique in that it provides opportunities to be mentored individually, but also through collaborative projects.

One project distinct to my nutrition training program is the Cultural Competence Express Workshop that provides training in cultural competence to all graduate students entering our academic department.  As a trainee, I have contributed at numerous levels, from a supporting role to facilitation of the project; however, at each position I received mentoring.  Being part of this project has demonstrated the progression of knowledge and skills required to assume a higher leadership role; however, it was my faculty mentor who supported this progression.  Together we evaluated my strengths and weaknesses as I had greater responsibility and implemented strategies to strengthen my leadership.

More formally, I participated in the Johns Hopkins MCH Leadership Skills Development Series with the trainees and faculty in my program.  These MCH-focused modules gave me the opportunity to reflect on my current leadership skills and provided new strategies for me to incorporate into my own development.  Participating in this series provided detailed areas for mentoring.

At the national level, the nutrition training program provides seamless entry into national organizations, such as the Association of State and Territorial Public Health Nutrition Directors (ASTPHND) and American Dietetic Association (ADA).  The collaborations between nutrition training faculty and other organizations on MCH-related projects provide trainees numerous opportunities to be involved.  The traineeship has provided me the opportunity to observe my mentor interact and effectively communicate with leaders, through participating in meeting, such as the executive board meeting of one of ADA’s practice groups.  I have also had a chance to participate actively and then practice the modeled behaviors in a professional setting.  For example I recently helped revise ASTPHND’s training needs assessment of members.

The fact that nearly half of the public health nutrition workforce plans to retire in the next 10 years would be daunting without the mentorship I have received in the nutrition training program.  Instead, however, I am excited and prepared to step into a leadership position.  The confidence to step forward did not come from the classroom or practice, but from the mentorship I received as a nutrition trainee.  As I continue to practice and develop my knowledge and skills as a doctoral-level trainee, I want to mentor the next future leaders, just as I have been mentored by the leaders of today.

Shannon Looney, MPH, RD
MCH Trainee
Department of Nutrition, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

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