Spring 2006
Healthy Times

Mentoring program strengthens alumni and student connections

Tackling a career while attending classes at University of Detroit Mercy takes dedication and fortitude, attributes that the students in the College of Health Professions (CHP) need to possess as they juggle coursework and a personal life. To ease the pressure associated with pursuing a health care career, the College of Health Professions Alumni Council created a mentoring program designed to support their alma mater's future nurses, physician assistants, health service administrators and nurse anesthetists.

"The council's goal is to enhance the student and alumni connections. Developing this program is one way to meet our very big goal," says Nancy Dillon '71, president of the College of Health Professions Alumni Council. "The council members and other alumni from the CHP volunteered without hesitation and many provided contacts for possible mentors."

Additionally, Dillon also asked the UDM faculty to promote the program in their classrooms.

"Thirty students asked for mentors. We were thrilled that this was something that the students wanted," says Dillon, who received her BSN from the University and is an education supervisor at St. John Home Care. "For the pilot program this winter term, there were 15 active mentors with some of them mentoring more than one student."

With the backing of Dean Suzanne Mellon and the assistance of Linda Small, UDM's director of Alumni Relations, Dillon researched how other health and nursing colleges implemented mentoring programs. As a result of her research, she found that matching the program with the student was the best formula for success.

"We didn't set down a lot of rules but rather guidelines for the participants to consider. For example, we suggested that the students not ask their mentors for a job and to be open, honest and respectful of the mentors," says Dillon. "So far it seems to be working well."

For Bruce Sullens '01, a family practice physician assistant, mentoring allowed him to reflect on his past and have a strong appreciation for where he has been and what he truly has to offer others, especially students.

 "I thought that being a mentor would be a great way to give back to the Physician Assistant Program, which gave me a great experience and education," says Sullens. "Perhaps my experiences could help someone get their questions answered and remove any anxiety that may exist."

Sullens' discussions with his mentee included advice on staying positive, on finding life/work balance and on managing the financial challenges that come with higher education.

Antoinette Mack Castelow '06, managed care appeals coordinator and case manager for bariatrics surgery at Detroit Medical Center, was paired with a student in the Second-Degree Option program. This fast-paced nursing course kept her mentee so busy that they were unable to meet face-to-face. Therefore, Castelow set small goals for herself that included initiating weekly e-mails to her student, letting her know she was available whenever she needed to talk or vent. Castelow even provided her mentee with valuable advice on questions that she could expect during an important job interview with a local hospital. 

"I am an advocate of the mentorship program. I benefited from having a 'silent' mentor, who was a colleague of mine," says Castelow, who received a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in May. "Being a supportive mentor ranges from guiding the student on how to set up papers in the college format to helping her choose a topic for a final presentation." 

Although the students have a difficult time squeezing in face time with their mentors, they do understand the benefits of the connection they have made. Graduate student Dustin Robinson, who is in his first year of the three-year Physician Assistant Program, says his mentor was very accommodating and insightful. He took his phone calls, even if he was at a family soccer game.

"The biggest benefit for me was having a mentor who went through the same program so he could relate to what I'm going through," says Robinson, who works as a research associate in the Department of Cardiac Surgery at the University of Michigan. "It's great to find out what's coming up in the coursework, or to discuss the details of choosing a clinical rotation."

The program's future appears bright as Dillon modifies details for fall term based on the recent participants' feedback. She reminds mentors and mentees that the connections do not have to expire because the term ended. She also hopes that other UDM colleges will think about modeling a mentoring program like theirs. And, with requests for mentors still pouring in, she encourages any alumni interested in mentoring to please e-mail her at nadmsn@aol.com.

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Jesuit founders Loyola, Faber, and Xavier

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