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Peer Mentoring in EMS
As an EMS educator, I am constantly looking for effective and creative methods to provide my students with holistic support mechanisms throughout their academic careers. Being a paramedic student is hard—very hard. Students have lives outside of the classroom, work responsibilities, bills to pay, children or other family members to care for, as well as any number of other responsibilities or hobbies. Once the stress of paramedic school is added into the equation, many students can easily feel overwhelmed, confused, frustrated, and discouraged. Among many other possible support mechanisms, peer mentoring may be an effective means of providing additional support and encouragement that we as instructors may not be able to provide. In this three-part series, we will explore the research to support peer mentoring, the characteristics of an effective peer mentor, and the common pitfalls associated with mentoring programs.
Prior to beginning any training initiative, it is important to understand the reasons and research supporting the program. A peer mentor is one who provides additional academic and emotional support to another student who may request such services. Analysis of current research supports the benefits of such programs. Peer mentor programs can provide crucial roles in student retention, improved academic performance and self-efficacy, as well as a social support system for students (Gunn, Lee, & Steed, 2017) (Turner, 2020).
Studies reflect critical elements needed for a successful peer mentor program. These elements include psychological and emotional support, goal-setting and career support, academic support, and role modeling (Gunn et al., 2017). Mentors can help provide psychological and emotional support by providing mentees with moral support and advice for academic and personal challenges they may be facing. Advanced students can assist with goal setting and career pathway guidance by helping to identify strengths and weaknesses as well as providing their own insight into career options based on their workforce experience. Academic support can be provided by sharing helpful study tips or class notes, providing guidance on class selection and schedule balance, and course expectations (Turner, 2020). Peer mentors also provide mentees with a role model and can demonstrate leadership skills and share their personal educational experiences to help overcome academic and personal challenges (Gunn et al., 2017).
Research has shown that medical students (those completing medical school training) frequently suffer from depression, anxiety, physical discomfort, poor academic performance, and a small percentage experience suicidal ideation (Shoaib, Afzal, & Aadil, 2017). Paramedic students may suffer many of the same ailments throughout their academic tenure. Providing support mechanisms to help mitigate such extreme feelings of stress can help ease many of the physical and psychological effects of such a demanding and highly skilled profession. Abundant evidence exists to support the benefits of such programs in the nursing field. Studies show the positive effects of mentoring in nursing programs reflect reduced anxiety in students who participate, increased self-efficacy and confidence, enhanced skills development, and improved program retention rates (Kramer, Hillman, & Zavala, 2018).
Peer mentorship programs not only benefit the mentee but the mentor as well. Evidence suggests those who participate as peer mentors in allied health programs develop an increased awareness of their leadership style and capabilities, improved confidence in teaching others, enhanced personal skills, as well as an improved professional attitude (Kramer et al., 2018). In prehospital medicine, leadership skills and professionalism are crucial to organizing complex resuscitation or rescue efforts for critical patients (Turner, 2020). Those skills can be fostered through participation as a peer mentor.
Paramedics often advance in their careers to the level of being a preceptor for students who are completing clinical time. Paramedic preceptors must have a desire and ability to teach as well as excellent personal skills which will help develop trust with the student. Experience as a peer mentor can help develop those skills prior to entering the workforce. Paramedic preceptors also help to enhance the paramedic student’s educational experience by providing work-based learning opportunities during their clinical experiences which help to prepare students to enter the workforce upon matriculation (MacQueen and Aiken, 2019). Students who function as peer mentors can appreciate the dedication needed to become paramedic preceptors as they advance through their careers. The experiences gained as a peer mentor may also help prepare the student for further organizational advancement beyond that of a paramedic preceptor which may
include positions such as shift supervisor, field training officer, organizational training officer, or an agency manager (Turner, 2020).
In short, the potential benefits of peer mentoring in the education setting can pay dividends in program retention, student satisfaction, improved performance as program graduates, and can establish the foundation for future EMS system leaders. Part two of this series will explore the ideal characteristics of effective peer mentors.
Gunn, F., Lee, S.W., & Steed, M., (2017) Student perceptions of benefits and challenges of peer mentoring programs: Divergent perspectives from mentors and mentees, Marketing Education Review, 27:1, 15-26, DOI: 10.1080/10528008.2016.1255560
Kramer, D., Hillman, S. M., & Zavala, M. (2018). Developing a culture of caring and support through a peer mentorship program. Journal of Nursing Education, 57(7), 430-435. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.liberty.edu/10.3928/01484834-20180618-09
MacQueen, H. and Aiken, F. (2019), “Supporting distance-taught students in the workplace”, Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, 10:1, 49-60. https://doi-org.ezproxy.liberty.edu/10.1108/HESWBL-04-2019-0048
Shoaib M, Afzal A, Aadil M. “Medical students” burn out – need of student mentor and support groups and emotional resilience skills training to be a part of medical school curriculum. Adv Med Educ Pract. 2017;8:179-180 https://doi.org/10.2147/AMEP.S132809
Turner, C. (2020) Peer mentor program training manual
Christine Turner, M.Ed., NRP
Christine Turner began her EMS career in 1999 as a volunteer medical responder with her local fire department and began teaching CPR classes in 2001. By 2005, she had completed paramedic training and served several years with a county EMS agency as an FTO and Shift Captain. In 2010, she transitioned to teaching full-time at a community college. She is a Level II paramedic instructor with extensive experience with teaching seated, hybrid, and online classes as well as advising strategies for degree-seeking and transfer students. She has served as a program director and has been through accreditation processes with two community colleges.
She has completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Emergency Medical Care from Western Carolina University (Go Cats!), a Master of Education in Higher Education Leadership from Liberty University (Go Flames!), as well as a variety of NCCCS teaching and leadership training.
Christine remains an active lead paramedic instructor and program director. She enjoys collaboration, problem-solving, and developing plans for world domination. Her favorite past times are spending quality time with her family, dogs, and friends.