University of Nebraska Medical Center

Mentorship grounds students in behavioral health careers

Photo cutline: Robyn Springer, left, found a mentor in BHECN Central Director Krista Fritson, PsyD. Dr. Fritson has guided Springer toward volunteer opportunities and other activities that have helped the future counselor plug into the professional community she will enter when she joins the behavioral health workforce. (Photo by Jennifer Bull, BHECN)

Mentorship is playing a key role in Robyn Springer’s new career journey. After spending the previous 30 years helping run a successful family roofing business, Springer, 52, is now enrolled in the licensed mental health practitioner master’s program at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. She intends to be a counselor in the area after she graduates in 2025.

Springer decided to switch careers after experiences in her personal life helped her discover her passion for behavioral health and helping others deal with behavioral health issues.

Once enrolled, UNK psychology professor Krista Fritson, PsyD, became her advisor. Dr. Fritson also is the Director of BHECN Central.

Plugging into a professional community

Dr. Fritson encouraged Springer to become involved with BHECN and in particular to attend and participate in various events and activities that are coordinated by the BHECN Central office.

Springer followed the advice and has since become a regular volunteer at social and educational events that BHECN Central sponsors. Taking these steps has helped Springer get engrained with the local behavioral health community and connect with local behavioral health professionals who are helping mentor her as she goes through her graduate program and who will become her colleagues once she graduates and becomes a therapist in the Kearney area.

“This is giving me experience in dealing with these working professionals that I wouldn’t be getting if BHECN wasn’t here,” Springer said.

BHECN placing increased emphasis on mentorship

While facilitating mentorship experiences like the ones Springer has enjoyed has always been a key function of BHECN, the organization in the past year increased its commitment to ensure more behavioral health students have impactful mentorship, said Roger Garcia, DMin, MPA, MTS, Associate Director of Recruitment and Retention.

“Solid mentorship is one of the strongest ways we can work to recruit, train and retain behavioral workers and by extension alleviate the shortage of behavioral health care workers in Nebraska,” Dr. Garcia said.

Mentoring program pairs students with working professionals

Dr. Garcia, who started with BHECN in 2022, has led the launch of BHECN’s Mentoring Program, which pairs licensed behavioral health care workers with students training in behavioral health care programs at various colleges and universities around the state. Thus far, about 30 behavioral health care workers from across the state have volunteered to serve as mentors in the new BHECN program and each of these will be paired with a behavioral health student over the next year.

The program provides students entering this field with robust mentorship experiences, Dr. Garcia said, noting that it allows them to meet regularly with their mentors to learn what working in the various fields is really like and get guidance on how to truly advance in their fields.

Both mentors and mentees commit to being matched and engaged with the mentoring program for one academic year to help ensure larger impact on the students’ academic, personal and career journeys. The goal in future years is to recruit even more mentors to help an increasing number of students have strong mentorship as they work through school and enter their career fields, Dr. Garcia said.

“It’s hard to overstate how important and impactful good mentors can be in helping students successfully navigate their career paths,” Dr. Garcia said. “We are very excited to be able to help as many behavioral health students in Nebraska have just those kinds of experiences as they work toward becoming licensed professionals in our state.”