Distance Mentoring for Doctors and Lawyers

Published on
May 21, 2013

Common questions from organizations starting up a new mentoring program are about mentors and mentees working at a distance:

  • How does distance mentoring work?
  • Is it as effective as local mentoring?

On 2 May 2013, the National Public Radio show called "Talk of the Nation" aired the topic "Luring Doctors and Lawyers to Rural America". The host was John Donovan and his guests were

  • Patrick Goetzinger, co-chair, Project Rural Practice Task Force
  • Maria Kefalas, author, Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America
  • Byron Crouse, program director, Wisconsin Rural Physician Residency Assistance Program

"Project Rural Practice" is a program of the State Bar of South Dakota. The State of South Dakota is the fifth least populous and the fifth least densely populated of the fifty United States - and is famous for having four times more cows than people. Mentoring came up during the radio show discussion, specifically how to support professionals geographically distant from those who could teach them best practices. Barriers remote rural professionals need to overcome include: finding an office space, creating a budget, finding clients, and having the support of established veterans as mentors to assist in the myriad of decisions about office management and how to deal with case specifics. Like many organizations, Project Rural Practice turned to technology to support those working at a distance:

DONVAN: But Patrick, if in fact there's a shortage of lawyers in those rural areas, and I take your point that the cities have lawyers, we're talking about non-city areas, how does a new lawyer get mentored if there are no older lawyers around to kind of show him the ropes? GOETZINGER: Well, we have technology available to us to help bridge that gap. We have a mentorship program through our Young Lawyers Association that will provide mentors on a daily basis and an as-needed basis. They're just a phone call, an email, or just a short ride away in a lot of cases from where that young lawyer has set up shop. So the mentorship side of it doesn't require you to be physically present given the technology that we have available, and the Internet is a great equalizer to allow us to provide those resources both online, on the phone, through email, to that young lawyer.

MentorCloud customers also use technology to effectively bridge the gaps between geography and time zone. More on this topic is available in the MentorCloud Blog entry "Remote Mentoring" (27 November 2012). In programs at Sun Microsystem, mentoring pairs who worked at a distance for many years reported the same satisfaction level as those working locally; however, mentors and mentees both reported that working at a distance is more time-consuming.

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