Maggie Sullivan provides ongoing clinical mentorship to nurses working with the PIH-supported nonprofit ETESC, Equipo Técnico de Educación en Salud Comunitaria, in Guatemala. Upon returning from a recent trip, Sullivan shared some of her reflections.
Sullivan is an accomplished family nurse practitioner who has long worked for the Boston Health Care for the Homeless. She co-moderates the Global Health Delivery Project’s online forum, and is a board member for the Global Nursing Caucus and the nonprofit Found in Translation.
Clinical mentorship is the foundation of any clinical practice, be it nursing or medicine. Good clinical mentorship, especially during one’s education and early in one’s career, is essential to sound practice.
It makes the difference between getting by in clinic and effecting positive health outcomes in the lives of your patients. When I was in nursing school, I remember a neonatal nursing instructor teaching us how to do newborn exams. She started by saying, “if you want to see a healthy baby, you’ll see a healthy baby.”
This phrase has stuck with me ever since and, even though I no longer see newborns, it reminds me to slow down, pay close attention to my patients and focus on my clinical skills. It was not written down in any pathophysiology text book, yet I think about it nearly every day in clinic as I’m examining patients.
It’s true, sometimes if we’re not careful, we see what we want to see, not what’s actually there. It would have taken me many years (and many mistakes) to learn this, but instead I learned it from a clinical mentor when I was still in school.
The clinical mentorship I provide in Guatemala is outside of any academic setting and with nurses who’ve already been practicing for some years. Because of this, for me clinical mentorship is a collaborative process between peers.
I ask questions of them, they ask questions of me. I am taught how to make some of my own clinical supplies, how clinical practice changes when we don’t have enough of something in stock, how to have conversations about health and illness with patients who might have a fairly different understanding of what health or illness is, and much more.
I think this is why I keep going back.
There is profound reciprocity and relationship building in clinical mentorship outside this country. Not to say that it doesn’t exist in my practice here in Boston, but I am reminded in Guatemala that if I don’t step outside of what’s familiar, I am more likely to see what I want to see.
Learn more about PIH’s work in Guatemala.