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Mentoring New Members: Creating a successful program for your organization

We spend a great deal of time developing and implementing recruitment programs but often don't have a good plan for what to do with new members when they join. This lack of planning causes a churning of new members, a lack of interest and wasted effort by recruiters when the new members decide to leave. Although volunteering in„EMS may not be for everyone, a good volunteer program can help ensure that new recruits learn about the best parts of your organization and make helping others a big part of their lives.

The Real Learning Curve

Mentoring new members goes beyond teaching them how to correctly fill out documentation or drive an ambulance. The challenge is making them feel confident in their skills, able to autonomously provide care, and most of all, helping them relate to the organization so they feel they're part of it.

Unfortunately, most organizations spend their time working on each member's basic skills or competency, so providers can be ˙activeÓ and able to respond to calls. This may be the best use of the organization's time in the short term because it gives them another responding member, but it may cost them the member in the long run.

We were all new at one time, but we often forget how much we learned when we were new, including the unwritten rules of the department and the value in getting to know existing members and the many benefits of being a member. Many new members become discouraged by the learning curve and feel they're outsiders to those who have known each other for decades. These new members could then distance themselves from the organization and might resign.

If you believe this doesn't occur in your organization, a quick search of your records might surprise you. Look at the number of new member applications accepted in the past three years and compare that information with the number of active members. Although you may argue that members leave for personal reasons, I would challenge that if the members made volunteering part of their everyday lives, they wouldn't leave when personal issues placed a strain on their time. The members who remained were either made to feel part of the group, or have ˙stuck it outÓ long enough to understand what it means to be a member.

Core Concepts

Mentors should incorporate ˙precepting,Ó or self-directed learning, into new-member orientation. When„EMS originally adopted the concept from nursing, it was a tool focused on new-member training, orientation and socialization. Since that time, we have focused less on these concepts and more on the training.

Mentors are often chosen for their clinical competency rather than their understanding of the organization or their ability to interact with new members. Recruits pick up on what their mentor or preceptor teaches, and the result is a good EMT or paramedic, but not necessarily a new member who feels welcome.

Laying the foundation for a member who will continue to volunteer for years to come takes someone who knows the ins and outs of the organization. For example, a new member would probably want to know who helped create the organization and who's highly respected even though that person might not be an officer. What are the taboos or unacceptable practices that might not be written rules? What are the benefits of being a member, and how do you take advantage of them?

It sounds silly, but all of these unexplained parts of being a member are what makes someone feel included. I've known members who had been in an organization for more than a year and didn't know if there was a retirement or length-of-service award plan.

Maybe it's time we go back to the core of precepting. Perhaps the best mentor is the most sociable or friendly member rather than the most skilled. Mentoring members for long-term success isn't about skills checklists; it's about making them feel like part of the organization and ˙the family.Ó

Mentors must be able to create an environment in which the new member knows where, when and how to get the help to improve their skills. They shouldn't be afraid to ask for help or admit they don't know something.

Once again, think back to when you joined your organization. Do you remember your initial training in documentation? Maybe not. But how about that first mug or cap you were given with your department's logo on it? And who made the biggest difference in your first six months? Was it your training officer or your first partner who took the time to share a cup of coffee with you?

Maybe it's time for those of us who have been volunteering for years to buy someone new a cup of coffee.

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