What Should You Do with a Difficult CFY Mentor?

Stuck with a Bad Supervisor? You Can Still Make Your CFY Great!

Smiling female speech-language pathologist writes with marker on paper attached to whiteboard in school classroom.

By definition, mentorship is “the guidance provided by a mentor, especially an experienced person in a company or educational institution.”

But “guidance” is a subjective thing. How much or how little is needed depends on the person receiving it. A “one size fits all” approach certainly doesn’t work. 

In the world of speech-language pathology (SLP), we meet the Clinical Fellow (CF). The CF has graduated with a master’s or doctoral degree and is a fully capable, competent professional working under a mentor during a Clinical Fellowship Year (CFY).

CFs should be assigned mentors through a careful, thoughtful matchmaking process. Typically, however, mentors are selected due to their location, experience, and willingness to take on the year-long commitment.

These criteria matter, but so do others. For example, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) encourages CFs to find out whether potential mentors have experience working with the specific populations the mentee wants to work with, and whether the mentor’s CFY philosophy matches their own.

Most of the time, mentorship relationships are successful, establishing a connection that lasts long after the clinical fellowship year is over.

Other times, the relationship just doesn’t work.

  • Maybe your mentor simply isn’t invested in the process. She or he can’t or won’t carve out time for you on a regular basis, or treats your interactions as a chore rather than a chance to help a colleague start a career on the right foot.
  • Maybe your mentor’s making too much time for you—trying to turn you into his or her “mini-me” by micromanaging you, and not giving you the space and freedom you need to shape your own professional identity.
  • Maybe your mentor’s more interested in making small talk than in talking through critical issues and how best to approach them, or likes to hand out lots of advice that doesn’t seem to inform her or his own practice.

At Pediatric Therapeutic Services, we call this phenomenon “BMS”—Bad Mentor Syndrome.

Luckily, we know what you can do about it!  

During the last 20 years, we’ve learned a lot about putting the CFs we work with in perfect placements. Our Clinical Directors go to great lengths to place CFs (and, for that matter, all our clinicians) where they’ll get the guidance and encouragement they need to start shaping their professional identities.

Even so, BMS sometimes still strikes. If it happens to you, don’t worry! There’s plenty you can do to take control of your CFY.

Why the Mentor Is Key to the Clinical Fellowship Year

During the CFY, CFs find themselves in unfamiliar, transitional territory.

After six years as a student in a Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) program, working under clear guidelines and receiving supervision, observations, and feedback, CFs are now independent SLP clinical service providers. They’re on their own, ready to work and facing a caseload.

But they’re still required to take the final step of working full-time for a minimum of 1,260 mentored hours and 36 weeks (or the part-time equivalent) before they receive ASHA’s Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC), signaling their fully professional status. 

The CFY’s transitional nature makes the mentor critical to the CF’s professional growth. “Mentoring Clinical Fellows requires an extraordinary commitment of time and talent,” according to ASHA. Most CFs “report successful experiences under the appropriate mentoring and supervision of competent, dedicated professionals.”

The Top Five Ways to Handle BMS

Should you find yourself in the minority of CFs who don’t get a “competent, dedicated” mentor, here are the top five things you can do to keep a bad match from sabotaging your CFY.

  1. Make the Transition from Classroom to Workplace
    You are no longer a student. Although you’re used to someone leading you every step of the way, the CFY requires you to exhibit new initiative and independence. Be ready to make your own decisions. Present yourself to your co-workers as the knowledgeable speech-language pathologist you’ve worked hard to become. Mastering this mindset will help you navigate any frustration you experience with your mentor.
  2. Male mentor talks with female speech language pathologist clinical fellow in school room with binders on bookshelves.Use the Resources You’re Provided
    At PTS we make a TON of resources available to all our therapists, and especially to CFs. So USE them! These resources include:

    • CF “Boot Camp”
      We give you an intensive introduction to school-based SLP’s ins and outs, so you can start your CFY as strongly and smoothly as possible.
    • CF Resource Binder
      We supply you with an extensive collection of documents, assessments, templates, and other tools to help you organize yourself, learn more about your discipline, and deliver high quality service to your students. 
    • CF Program Coordinator
      We give you direct, ongoing access to the mastered level SLP who’s coordinating the CF program. This SLP is available for clinical direction and advice, and offers all CFs a valuable personal connection.
    • Clinical Director
      We assign you a PTS supervisor who’s been in your shoes as a school-based therapist, who’s always ready to offer advice and guidance, and who’s prepared and qualified to act as your advocate.
  3. Work to Answer Your Questions Yourself
    Help yourself. It’s just that simple. When you’re a student, “ask first” is the policy. And asking questions to “get the lay of the land” is a normal part of the school year start-up. But as a CF, learning to navigate your own professional path is part of your journey. I use this analogy: When you’re driving somewhere you’ve never been, if you only follow your GPS or listen to someone giving you directions, you may end up at your destination, but you’ll have no idea of the route you took to get there. Mapping out the path yourself helps you internalize it.
  4. Set Clear Expectations for Your Mentor
    Your mentor should be available to guide you, but this is YOUR journey. It’s up to you to determine how much support you need, how you’d like to get feedback, how often you want to check in, and which students or meetings you’d like your mentor to observe. You have to advocate for yourself to get what you need.
  5. Own Your Experience
    In the end, your CFY will be exactly as you’ve designed it. You won’t get a second chance to have a great one. At the end of your 1,260 hours you should never be saying, “I wish I knew…,” “No one ever showed me…,” or “My mentor never explained…” Ask for what you need. Tell your mentor what you’re missing. Take ownership. Hold yourself accountable for getting everything you can out of this opportunity. 

Work with PTS for a Positive and Productive CFY

Your CFY is the proverbial “trial by fire”—a crash course in being a full-fledged SLP.

But you don’t have to resign yourself to BMS! If you find your mentor-mentee experience isn’t a good one, PTS will help you find a resolution so you can make your time as a CF the positive, productive experience you want and need it to be.

If you’d like to find out more about how a CFY through PTS can help you successfully launch your speech-language pathology career, call us today at (610) 941-7020 or check out our available positions online.

Above all, remember: You are in control. Make your 1,260 hours exceptional!

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