The journey from San Diego to Cleveland is just over 2,300 miles. That’s what Kyle Underwood, MHA, faced when relocating from California to Ohio several years ago to begin an administrative fellowship at Cleveland Clinic.
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That pivotal step in Underwood’s life came with a lot of initial uncertainty. He would be far from his family and friends, was embarking on a new career and was dreading the unfamiliar Northeastern weather. Much to his relief, this uncertainty was quickly resolved as he settled into his new surroundings and became familiar with everything Cleveland Clinic offers its caregivers. One of the first opportunities he took advantage of was the institution’s mentor-mentee program, which allowed him to establish relationships with colleagues from whom he could receive advice and support.
“Mentoring is so much more than [providing] business tips and tricks,” says Underwood. “I owe my career success to my mentors, who have taught me how to navigate life, be a good human and even scrape ice off my car.”
Cleveland Clinic offers many opportunities for caregivers to experience both sides of the mentor-mentee relationship. Mentors partner with colleagues who can help them develop skills, build confidence, experience multidisciplinary collaboration, and more via regular meetings, team-building exercises and work experiences. Many mentors find that they not only get to play a role in their mentees’ success and foundational growth, but they also get the opportunity to further their own education in the process.
Underwood says his experience as a mentee helped him grow and also inspired him to try his hand as a mentor. Then 26 years old and a program manager in Cleveland Clinic’s Head and Neck Institute, he says he was able to pursue this goal early on thanks to the support of colleague Adam Haas, whose own career in the Head and Neck Institute began the same day as Underwood’s.
Close in age, Underwood and Haas say they share similar goals, interests and personalities, so their connection came easily. Underwood emailed a simple lunch invitation to his new coworker, and their relationship grew from there.
“Lunch started with Kyle asking me, ‘Why do you work in healthcare, and why do you find a value in it?’” says Haas, now an administrative program coordinator at the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. “Daily meetings turned into joint projects, and that eventually turned into hanging out together on the weekends.”
Their relationship has continued to evolve. Not only do the two men still hold weekly lunch-and-learn sessions to discuss projects, career goals and anything else that might be going on at work, but they also reach out to each other in the halls or via phone or email whenever they have something to discuss.
“Adam and I just clicked, and we’ve been able to invest in each other,” Underwood explains. “That’s the beauty of mentorship. It’s not just a one-sided approach. We work together, and we are also friends. It’s turned into a really rich relationship.”
“Mentorship is not just about professional development,” adds Haas. “It can also be about making connections that can really impact your life.”
Their relationship not only helps the two “friendtors” move through their workdays with purpose, but it also motivates them to support others and gives them perspective on what other caregivers are working through daily. Additionally, it provides a sense of belonging, as they know the institution supports the professional growth of its caregivers, regardless of their backgrounds or interests.
“It gives me a sense of purpose in my career and life journey [to know] that I’m giving back to somebody else and seeing them shine,” says Underwood. “As I went through my fellowship to where I am now, I’ve been blessed to be very successful in my career. But my biggest joy is seeing people that I invested in doing well.”
That sense of caregiver belonging really hits home for Underwood, who has Hunter syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affects development. He insists he’s never had a day at Cleveland Clinic when he didn’t feel accepted by his fellow caregivers.
Advocacy and community work are also large parts of the two men’s lives. Underwood is a member of Cleveland Clinic’s Rare Disease Legislative Advocate Committee, and Haas volunteers with the Special Olympics and local animal shelters. He also serves on the board of Project Alive, an organization committed to finding a cure for Hunter syndrome.
“There are times when Kyle and I both work with his advocacy program,” Haas explains. “Whether it be planning an event to support Hunter syndrome research or being looped into a similar project, it’s really cool to support his ‘why’.”
While Underwood and Haas both feel comfortable forming mentor-mentee relationships, they say it wouldn’t be possible without the environment that Cleveland Clinic fosters. Not only does the institution provide diversity initiatives and champion caregiver belonging, but the organization also offers formal mentoring and coaching programs. These opportunities have given Underwood, Haas and many other caregivers the freedom to form a variety of fruitful peer alliances.
“Cleveland Clinic has created a culture in which these conversations and relationships can develop naturally,” says Underwood.
Underwood and Haas recently took the next step in their career journeys together, relocating to Nevada to transition into new administrative roles at Cleveland Clinic’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas. Once settled in their new homes, they’ll have to form relationships with their new teammates, but they are confident they can do so thanks to the environment Cleveland Clinic has created.