On the Importance of Mentors (and Mentors Who Become Friends)

Brief definition of Mentor overlaying a line sketch of people talking

The best mentors not only provide a sounding board to try out new ideas and thoughts, they also give you the confidence to ride new waves of opportunity. But sometimes mentors become something more: They become your lifelong friends.

That’s the way it’s been for me with Jon White, MD.

I’ve been blessed with many mentors and many friends, but this is a good time for me to reflect on my relationship with Jon because he just announced that he is leaving his post at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC). Jon will become the associate chief of staff of research at the Department of Veterans Affairs Salt Lake City Health Care System.

I’ve known Jon for more than a decade, first in his role as the director of the Health Information Technology (IT) Portfolio at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and then in his role at ONC. We’ve served on committees together, pushed the national health IT agenda, and commiserated when the promise of automation fell short, once again, of what health care needed.

Jon was ONC’s lead for the Precision Medicine Initiative from 2014 to 2017, and he contributed significantly to the IT provisions of the 21st Century Cures Act. He solicited broad consultative input on the nation’s health IT agenda, engaging the JASON advisory group to inform the direction of artificial intelligence and patient participation, and served as co-chair of the Health IT Standards Committee, which was established in accordance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act.

It would take more space than this blog post to detail Jon’s accomplishments as a federal leader in the health IT space, which would detract from what I want you to know about Jon as a mentor who became my friend.

Like the best mentors, Jon challenged my thinking. During hallway conversations and AHRQ council meetings, Jon pushed me to consider how IT could better support patient participation in health care. He pointed me toward funding opportunities, and before the term “manel” was commonly used to describe all-male speaking panels, he invited me to participate on deliberation panels and key committees.

As I weighed the pros and cons of taking what turned out to be this outstanding opportunity to direct the National Library of Medicine, Jon provided me with sound advice, pointing out the opportunities and challenges I might find in a federal position.

My friendship with Jon is a special gift that reflects not so much the quality of his mentorship but an evolution of our relationship. And when you become friends, there is a mutuality that doesn’t really exist in a mentor-mentee relationship.

As Jon moves on, I hope he carries the gift of this mentorship that turned into a friendship into the next stage of his life, and I hope you’ll be inspired to reach out to the mentors and friends in your life.  

Click here for more Musings on mentors.

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