The One-Minute Mentor

The One-Minute Mentor

The Mentor-Mentee relationship serves a very specific purpose for each of us, which is why we have so few of them in our lifetime. Being able to recognize our mentors is crucial, as they advance knowledge and wisdom from one generation to the next. They help us create outcomes that we can visualize but cannot readily produce on our own. The relationship between a mentor and mentee is highly interactive, engaging and collaborative. In the words of Ben Franklin, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

Mentoring moments, on the other hand, do not necessarily happen through formal mentoring relationships. Sometimes mentoring moments happen during our normal day when we least expect them. These moments are more spontaneous and unintentional than our meetings with traditional mentors. They can occur with people we know, or they can occur with complete strangers. Even young children have been known to impart mentoring to adults. Whatever forms they appear in, I call the people who facilitate these moments “One-Minute Mentors.” Their impact is sharp and decisive, and they create memorable moments for us that leave a lasting impression.

The following is a firsthand account from my son, Evan, a second year medical student at UCLA, who met one of his “One-Minute Mentors” in the Emergency Department (ED).

It was 10pm on a weeknight, and I was shadowing the junior resident in the ED. It was busy, so I didn’t take it personally when the junior resident did not have a lot of time to involve me in the patient care. While I was watching them enter notes in the resident workroom, Dr. Probst, whom I had introduced myself to at the beginning of my shadowing shift, popped his head in and asked if I wanted to see a patient with him. As any interested student would do, I lit up with a smile and said “of course!” We went into the room of a 74 year old woman who had fallen on the sidewalk and hit her teeth. Her mouth was bleeding a bit, her teeth were somewhat disfigured, and she was trembling with fear on the gurney. She was confused, she wanted her family there, she didn’t know what had happened to her teeth, and she wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. I noted how calm Dr. Probst was with this woman. His bedside manner didn’t seem to come down to what he said, or even really how he said it, but to who he was as a person and physician. It didn’t feel like an act, it didn’t feel like he was trying to calm her down, his empathy was genuine and his passion for helping this woman formed a trust and connection with her that wiped away any anxiety she was carrying.

I was standing a respectful distance back while Dr. Probst and one of the residents discussed how they were going to use some dental paste to temporarily fix her teeth until she could go to a specialist. Once they decided on their plan, I asked “is there anything that I can do to help?” There was a pause and he said “I’m glad you asked, come over here,” as he waved me towards the bedside. He took the patient’s hand in his own, and passed it over to me. He looked directly at me, gave a gentle smile and told me to emotionally support her and keep her calm through the procedure. Despite not being completely sure what that may entail, the confidence he showed in my ability to calm her brought out the best in me. When he passed me her hand it felt like he had passed me some of his confidence as well, because four minutes later the woman had finished the procedure without a tremble and without a tear, while expressing gratitude and respect for all the physicians in the room, myself as well. And with that, my One-Minute-Mentor was gone, and I was left to ponder what had just happened.

When I had a chance to really think about my experience with Dr. Probst, this is what I learned. The often overused term, “bedside manner,” is no joke. It can be as powerful as the placebo effect, and just like the placebo effect, it cannot be elicited without being fully committed to its efficacy. You cannot be self-conscious or clinical when you’re comforting a patient, you have to be committed. For me, this was an experience that straddled the line between the cliché and the compulsory, and it didn’t take me long to put it into action. The very next week, while observing a Nurse Practitioner I was shadowing drain the abscess of a scared 17 year old girl, without a second thought I took a knee by the bedside, held her hand, and experienced that procedure with her. She was clearly comforted as she held onto me. I wasn’t “trying” this technique out, I was doing it. Over the past year I’ve now held many hands, looked many patients straight in the eye, heard many stories, told some of my own, been in the way of nurses who needed that arm, and been thanked by parents and patients alike. It reminded me how useful someone without a “use” can actually be in the emergency department. It also showed me that holding a patient’s hand is one way I can hold onto the passion and drive that is medicine, even when no medicine is being administered.

One-Minute Mentors are everywhere. They bring unplanned mentoring moments into our lives all the time. Our ability to learn from them is limited only by our ability to recognize them. Dr. Probst was clearly recognizable by his demeanor, his lack of self-consciousness and his confidence in what he was doing. He transmitted that confidence to Evan without fanfare. In contrast to traditional mentors, One-Minute Mentors teach by virtue of who they are, without trying to consciously mentor in the process. They are knowledgeable, instinctive and steadfast. I have been equally influenced by the worker in my front yard tirelessly digging a ditch, or the nurse who compassionately took care of me during a vulnerable time, as I have been by my esteemed formal mentors. One-Minute Mentors are being the example, not trying to set the example.

You’ll know you’ve met a One-Minute Mentor when the brief encounter causes you to pause and think about what you just learned.

For more information on Evan Laveman visit

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Five Minute Articles For Your Consideration12 comments

  1. Patrece says:

    Such an important message shared in your special way. Thanks, Larry.

  2. Carol Newt says:

    Just read up on your son. Very nice, med school! Quite a brainiac. Loved his story of the ED. You must be very proud!

    Also, liked the whole article.

    Speak someday,Newt

    • Larry says:

      Thanks for your comment Newt,
      Glad you liked the article. It was inspired by Evan, who is also a pretty talented writer.

  3. Tera Lane says:

    WOW…what a wonderful message, Larry….so love your work! Many Thanks!

    • Larry says:

      You’re welcome Tera,
      Imagine how many people we could positively influence by knowing that at any moment we could be a One-Minute Mentor to someone.

  4. Bonnie Beck says:

    Yes Larry I got two of these. Ahhh and technology was supposed to make our lives easier! Really enjoyed this article and hearing about Evan’s experience with his mentor teaching him in just those few minutes all you need to know about good medical bedside manners. When one is afraid and/or in pain, healing begins when someone kind holds your hand.

    • Larry says:

      Hi Bonnie,
      Well said! Healing begins at the contact point between humanity and disease. Bedside manner is the facilitator. I’m trying to remember that.

  5. Ann Golumbuk says:

    Love this article, I just had a very uncomfortable procedure this afternoon, I was nervous about it until the nurse came over and asked me if she could rub my back. It was amazing it calmed me right down! Nice article…..I’ll be looking for my one minute mentor!

    Thanks Larry

    • Larry says:

      Thanks Ann,
      We so often find comfort in the places where we aren’t looking. I’m sure you’ve mentored many people without ever knowing it.

  6. You inspired me…

    Imprint with a lasting impression
    Takes you in a better direction.
    “Make the plan.” “Hold her hand.”
    “Heal thyself.” “Be a man.”
    Spontaneous or intentional
    Traditional or unconventional
    This energetic key to who you are
    Is the tiny flicker that lights a star.

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