Doran Walker and David B. Kay: Developing Their Own Playbook for a Strong Mentoring Relationship

Promo image for Healthcare Change Makers episode 49 with David Kay and Doran Walker

David Kay and Doran Walker don’t follow a playbook when it comes to their mentor/mentee relationship. But setting goals along the way is crucial and both parties benefit from the simple acts of listening, suggesting, and reflecting. 

Show Summary

Our guests David Kay and Doran Walker have had a mentor/mentee relationship since 2018. Doran is an RN with an MBA, owner and Healthcare Consultant for BioMD consulting and a Patient Care Manager for Specialized Geriatrics, Glenrose for Alberta Health Services. He’s also the National Cochair for Emerging Health Leaders Canada. 

The fact that they came together well before the pandemic Doran says is fortuitous, since he had someone to turn to when his professional life became more challenging, and he became a new father. 

David runs his own healthcare and professional regulatory management consultancy. He says much of what he learned about being a good mentor comes from having strong mentors in the early stages of his career. 

One of those was a CEO of a large teaching hospital who shared his insights with David on long drives around Saskatchewan. This CEO would call fellow CEOs after hours to have open and casual conversations, something that imprinted on David the value of compassionate leadership.

David and Doran talked to us about what they’ve learned from each other, what defines a good mentoring relationship, and the fact that we all probably have more mentors than we realize.

Mentioned in this Episode


Imagine you could step inside the minds of Canada's healthcare leaders, glimpse their greatest fears, strongest drivers and what makes them tick. Welcome to Healthcare Change Makers, a podcast where we talk to leaders about the joys and challenges of driving change and working with partners, to create the safest healthcare system.

Ellen Gardner: Welcome to Healthcare Changemakers, a podcast produced by HIROC. I'm Ellen Gardner with Michelle Holden and Philip De Souza. Our guests, David Kay and Doran Walker have had a mentor/mentee relationship since 2018. Doran is an RN with an MBA, owner and Healthcare Consultant for BioMD consulting and a Patient Care Manager for Specialized Geriatrics, Glenrose for Alberta Health Services. He’s also the National Co-chair for Emerging Health Leaders Canada. 

The fact that they came together well before the pandemic, Doran says, is fortuitous since he had someone to turn to when his professional life became more challenging and he became a new father.

David runs his own healthcare and professional regulatory management consultancy. He says much of what he learned about being a good mentor comes from having strong mentors in the early stages of his career. One of those was a CEO of a large teaching hospital who shared his insights with David on long drives around Saskatchewan. The CEO would call fellow CEOs after hours to have open and casual conversations, something that imprinted on David the value of compassionate leadership. 

David and Doran talked to us about what they've learned from each other, what defines a good mentoring relationship and the fact that we all probably have more mentors than we realize.

I just want to welcome you both, Doran and David, to the Healthcare Changemakers Podcast. This is a little bit of a step outside our usual format. We typically are only talking about leadership, but today we're talking about mentoring. And so, we're really excited to hear from both of you how mentoring has been a part of your lives and affected your lives. So maybe we can start by you both telling us how you connected, how you found each other. Maybe, Doran, you can start.

Doran Walker: For sure. So, yeah, it was a number of years ago now, maybe three or four years ago now. And I've been with Emerging Health Leaders for a while. I'm currently the National Co-chair. But at that time, I was doing more local node work and actually was the Director of Mentorship. And we'd run, it's essentially the same as a speed dating, for lack of a better word, workshop, where you got to interview different mentors. And David and a number of other ones were unable to make it. Because I was emcee of the event I was unable to participate in it as well. But I definitely was at a point in my career where I wanted to get a mentor to start working through stuff.

So in a way there was two ways to look at it, but it was either the ones that were left over, but I also had my pick of all the ones that were left over. So I reached out to David and we got to really connect and have done a lot of work since then.

David Kay: I think that was back in 2018 and I thank you, Doran. I hadn't heard it described that way, always a bridesmaid and never a bride. But thank you, anyway. Yes, so both, informally, I was a beneficiary of having several mentors throughout my career and I was also blessed to be a preceptor for a PhD student in health administration that I had started with a few months before. So this was really another opportunity to give back to the next generation and to the profession.

Ellen Gardner: It's probably good that you got started before the pandemic because you'd already established a relationship by the time it hit. So it's interesting to hear that you both went through it and I'm sure that you came out of it with some different ideas about how to work through a mentoring relationship over that period of time.

Doran Walker: Yeah, for sure. When we first formed the mentor/mentee relationship we were doing things like setting my goals, my career goals, as well as my goals of what I was giving back to healthcare. Most of my career I've worked in healthcare operations. I'm a nurse with a Master's in Business and was in operational leadership, just entry level at that time. As those goals were reached, we set new goals and then worked our way through it. 

But when March 2020 hit, which was actually the last year that I was the Director of Mentorship, before I moved up into national career with Emerging Health Leaders, we were going into a situation that no one had experience with necessarily.

I made a jump to a different province. I was working in Vancouver when we were working our way through things such as setting up vaccine sites, setting up and taking down. I was in mental substance use, mental substance units, at that time. And then working through the heat wave, working through the forest fires, setting up different emergent things through that time, I always had someone that I could go to. And then the last piece was that during that time, outside of work, we got pregnant and I had a son.

That was probably the final phase or the second-to-last phase that the mentee/mentorship relationship took over. Because I could go to David, who at that point in time ... And you can speak more about it, was having grandchildren. And we talked about the similarities and setting work/life balance. And while in the context of a global pandemic and these different emergent situations that were going on at the same time, I would still be a father along with a career.

David Kay: You've nicely described that journey that we started on from, "What do I want to do next in my career?" and how to do that, and providing some self-reflection and a mirror back to Doran about his strengths and opportunities, and where focus might be helpful. And I remember we did a bit of a SOAR, strength, opportunities, aspirations and results analysis. And then that led to a bit of a personal business plan to provide that focus.

Then, just as Doran described, we pulled back during the pandemic to other issues and how to navigate those and what people might be feeling as they were working through these different challenges, and then yes, being a new dad and what that was like. And very much, as a mentor, I certainly was the beneficiary of wisdom and insight that helped me be a better person and a better leader.

Ellen Gardner: In setting the groundwork for a mentoring relationship, David, how important is goal setting? And as your relationship has evolved, have you kept revisiting those goals to measure progress or make changes?

David Kay: I believe goal setting is important for all of us for both personal goals and professional goal setting. It just helps provide some focus, otherwise it could appear both daunting and also doing a lot of things but not seeming to achieve the valuable things I want to do. So I think both Doran and I agree that putting some focus around what he felt was valuable for him personally and professionally, where he had had success in the past, how to leverage that to go forward, what he wanted to get out of his professional career, that by doing some homework to look at what was important and valuable, that that paid off.

I looked back at my diaries and we had started off with meeting every three or so weeks. And then as our relationship developed and as progress was being made on a personal career plan, et cetera, we were able to taper that back to this less frequent meetings. But certainly as Doran described, during the pandemic we kept in touch and bounced ideas off of one another, but kept coming back to, what are the goals that you want to accomplish? And what's changed now, and why? Is that a permanent change or is that a temporary change? And how do we move through that? So very important to set goals, I think, and also be reflective that those will evolve over time.

Philip De Souza:
Do you have a playbook, David, that you have? Because just hearing you today, I can tell that you have supported a great number of emerging leaders. And I wonder, "Oh, do you have a playbook you can share? Have you published one?"

David Kay: Well, unfortunately, I'm neither rich nor good looking, so there is no playbook that has brought me wealth. But I think in part, the playbook is to mirror what I observed other good leaders do to help and shepherd colleagues that they had had, and that I was blessed with good mentors throughout much of my career. I took in how they approached working with me and others, and what seemed to work for me, number one.

Number two is, everyone's journey is their own. And even though the fact situation in the event may be the same, how we perceive it, how we react to it is always different. And so I have learned sometimes the hard way, but learned that it's an n-of-one. What I might do is not necessarily what others might do. There may be a range of responses that are similar, but how I feel about something, how I perceive it is unique to me. And I have learned that, I believe that and that, I hope, has influenced how I work with mentees and with colleagues and others in general.

Ellen Gardner: That's a good question, Philip, because that leads me to the question about, when I think of mentoring, I think of a guide or a friend, someone coming maybe from the same profession with similar kinds of experience who offers valuable insights, which is different, I think, from an active coaching role or a counsellor who is maybe a little bit more prescriptive, a little bit more on the advice side. So do you see things that way, David? Is that your idea about what a mentor should do?

David Kay: I think that's a nice summary. It's not to tell you what to do, but again, that reflection, what do you think? Or why might someone have acted that way? I think one of our first dialogues when we started off, Doran was new in operations and had taken over a nursing unit and had very quickly and astutely identified the need to make some workforce changes in just how the staff were working and interacting, for the benefit of the patients. And I think he might have described it as a bit of a toxic environment. And so we walked through what he had in mind to make it better and how people might respond to that and really go through what a change-management process might look like.

So I think just by listening, suggesting and reflecting, that's different as you described than an executive coach, for example, or a counsellor. In some of those circumstances that we discussed over our relationship, I hadn't lived it, but I could draw on something that might have been a little similar, or at least, "This is how people might be feeling about what they're hearing," and the why. And so what do we do about the why? What's the what and the how?

Ellen Gardner: Doran, can you tell us about something that you've changed in your life, whether that's a personal or a professional aspect as a result of this mentoring relationship?

Doran Walker: The initial goal was to work towards a director, executive director, position. And as we went through everything and once my family life took off a bit more, we ended up getting to a position where I was offered a couple of different career opportunities. But at that time, which was, I guess, last year, it wasn't the time to take them yet because I needed to focus more on family.

We're talking about goals, but I feel that we're missing one piece that we did spend a lot of time on, David, which was values and how much discussion about values that we had over the years. When we started to line up that goal, I had to turn those positions down even though they made very attractive offers in order to bring it back and focus on the family.

So because of the mentorship relationship and our discussion on goals and values, what changed for me was a deeper understanding of who I was and what I needed to value. For that I'm quite grateful and yeah, it's really nice to be able to reflect on this whole journey. The journey is not over either.

Ellen Gardner: I really like the way you talk about values as a fundamental part of this relationship. Because yes, it's not all just about goals. It's about, "Do we believe in the same things?" But also, making big life decisions often comes down to, "What are my values?" So having someone to talk about that would be great value. In fact it's making me wish I'd had more mentors in my life.

Doran Walker: Well you probably did. I was talking with Graham Dixon as well, he's one of the founders of Leeds, the other day, about mentorship. And they're putting out new programs where it's not just one mentor. Because how we naturally work within our careers and our lives is that we don't have just one mentor. With David and myself that's a very formal relationship, at least off the start, and that's a specific mentor. But I know David could attest to it, too, but myself as well, there's usually four or five different people that have mentorship within our lives in different ways. And to emerging leaders in our different programs, I think that's going to be the next way forward for mentorship research and literature.

Ellen Gardner: We heard about the value of the relationship to you, Doran. Dave, as the mentor, how has the experience changed you?

David Kay: It's been really important to me, both, I'm at a different stage in my career. I'm at the other end of the runway where Doran is at the opposite end in some ways. And I reflected on our conversations and his passion and energy and the issues and it reminded me of the why I got into healthcare, where we can make a difference with our mission.

And so, it gave me some additional joy. I’ve learned so much from our conversations that I could apply both personally and in my leadership roles as well. We've talked about it throughout this conversation, gratitude. Again, to be grateful for what I have, what I've experienced, people that have been involved in my career and in my life, and that hopefully I can give back a little bit through this interaction with Doran.

Ellen Gardner: I can see how mentoring really does help an emerging leader like you, Doran, just someone younger and moving into different leadership roles. But what about mentoring for people at an advanced stage of their career, or maybe midway through their careers? How do you think mentoring can help them and what kind of mentors should those people seek out?

David Kay: I like to call it a kitchen cabinet. And I have been fortunate throughout my career, well I would say throughout my career, perhaps more in the middle of it and later on of having a network of people around me whose opinions I trusted and who could be honest with me in a safe way and say, "David, you're full of it. Stop it." And to have that kitchen cabinet to talk about, not just work-related things necessarily, but other issues as well, I found to be extremely helpful.

Ellen Gardner: Doran, do you have thoughts on that?

Doran Walker: I'm thinking of it from if I take it back from more of a systems perspective, we're going through a time within healthcare where there's The Great Resignation, The Great Reorganization. Attrition rates for nursing and the physicians, as well, within their first few years are quite high. And we have a workforce, these emerging leaders that, if we can keep them within healthcare, ensure that they have the right supports, that they're no longer emerging leaders.

Anyone that's been within healthcare for the past couple years has already gone through a global-level crisis called COVID. So it's the first time in history where unless you started work two weeks ago, you're a veteran even if you started two years ago. And then some of the other challenges within healthcare around equity, diversity and inclusion, ensuring that we're using compassionate leadership, a newer generation of emerging health leaders, they grew up within that world. To them, EDI, all those buzz words that we're using, that's their reality.

What we need to do is make sure that when The Globe and Mail is writing an article about a shortage of 6,800 nurses or whatever it was, that we are keeping as many of these high-performing, emerging leaders as we can within the workforce, and passing on the knowledge before we lose it from everyone that's about to jump ship in The Great Resignation or already has. Now mentorship is probably the most direct way that that knowledge can be passed on. But it also has the benefit of providing wellness for emerging leaders as they get through. Because when they come to stressful situations like I just described, they already have someone formally they can go to to talk about it.

Ellen Gardner: Is mentorship a formal program within Emerging Leaders Canada?

Doran Walker: Each local node has a formal mentorship program. Maybe I should give a little bit of a background on Emerging Health Leaders or a quick version of it.

Ellen Gardner: That would be great.

Doran Walker: Well Emerging Health Leaders started about 15 years ago, it's 16 now, where Emily and Adrian, our founders, saw that there was a need for healthcare leadership professional development. They had this summit back then, came together and everyone agreed with it and they started nodes in different cities. So these nodes were really a focus on grassroots professional development for healthcare professionals, put on by healthcare professionals.
And what's ended up happening is each city, Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, and the other cities ... (My apologies for any city that I left out, it wasn't intentional) have become essentially, these incubators of innovation that, not to use too many buzz words, but organically have generated professional development networking events as well as learning events, as well as different events, to give back to the community. But each one has naturally developed a mentorship program there as well.

We were also developing a national mentorship program that will be for a few, where we're going to work on some international projects. We're in talks with a number of different organizations in the national healthcare leadership realm to start connecting mentees from across Canada who are these self-selected, high-performing emerging health leaders, connect them with executive-level leaders and they're going to work on some international projects. Maybe they'll be working on an equity, diversity-inclusion change management in Dubai or designing a project they did before or doing some business planning for a cancer centre in Ethiopia. 

This was generated from answering the question with The Great Resignation and The Great Reorganization, "How can I connect?" We usually have 450 to 500 professional emerging health leaders. How can I connect them with where they need to be within healthcare to try to stop that gap a little bit.

Ellen Gardner: Do you both feel that mentorship and the way Emerging Health Leaders works is, yes, they set up formal programs – that mentorship needs to be a structured program? That often if you hope a mentor is going to come into your life organically, it doesn't happen, and you do need to guide the relationships and help people find mentors and mentees?

David Kay: My bias would be that that is helpful, because not everyone is in a situation where there is someone they may feel comfortable in approaching to be a mentor. Or the organization hasn't experienced mentor/mentee relationships, or even in a somewhat of an analogous situation is co-op placement. So I think having a structure that can help match interested mentees and mentors together and provide a framework is helpful.

Having said that, I think many mentees, mentors come together informally as well. And I look back at my own experience. And early in my career, I was blessed by having more of an informal relationship with the CEO of the organization I was in, who took an interest in my career development. It was nothing formal, it was just organic and informal.

I remember he was the CEO of a very large university teaching hospital in the province and so would often be called upon to speak at smaller hospitals throughout the province. And he would take me along in the car. I spent many, many. many hours driving around Saskatchewan with him, just listening to his journey, his story, some insights into what was going on at work or outside of work in the profession. And I just learned so much from just being captive in the car and listening.

Ellen Gardner: If someone was listening to this podcast and they thought, "I really would love to explore becoming a mentor or a mentee, what is the first thing they should do? Doran, do you want to start with that?

Doran Walker: I think what they want to do is start to evaluate why they're looking to get into that relationship and then look for the different opportunities within their community. First off, within your workforce, no matter what stage you're at, there is someone you can mentor that's beside you already. If you're looking for something formal, then yeah, connect with one of the organizations. And we can jump in there because our limiting factor is the mentors, not the mentees, that's for sure.

Ellen Gardner: David, do you have any advice that you'd want to share about exploring becoming a mentor or a mentee?

David Kay: Well I think Doran has nicely summarized the avenues and the thought process, and I would just add one thing is that many of our listeners, many of us are already doing some informal mentoring. We may not have thought about it. And what I mean by that is through our activities and our contribution to our communities in areas outside of work. That may be we referee hockey, like I do. And so I have a wonderful opportunity to learn from and hopefully give back to the younger referees. Scouts, cycling clubs, whatever social activities we're involved in, if we stop and pause we may realize that we've been doing some mentoring, we just didn't call it that, put a label on it.

And so if you do that, then it becomes perhaps a little less scary and you can take another step to maybe make this in a more formalized way using that framework, that organizations like Emerging Health Leaders, Canadian College of Health Leaders, American College of Health Executives, et cetera can provide.

Philip De Souza: David, you didn't bite on my playbook. So now we'll have to do the playbook for him, I guess. Sell it on his behalf. 

But I really liked his point about the kitchen cabinet because I've learned about it. I've known it to be a personal board of directors. We all may not realize it but actually, we all have our own board of directors who help, I wouldn't say guide us completely, but give us that insight and that advice or ask those questions that David talked about that help us say, "Oh, yeah," like, "Why am I doing it this way?" Or, "I should consider doing it this way," or whatever decision or goal you're going towards. I really appreciate that.

I think this is a great conversation. It's making me very reflective as well as to who has mentored me in the past and how I can give back. So I find this conversation very good in the sense that I think listeners will really appreciate all the advice and insight you provided. But we'll stop after the podcast is over and I think you'll sit with them to say, "What more can I do?" So I really appreciate that.

Ellen Gardner: Yes, thank you both for just an illuminating conversation about the value of mentorship. And you both seem like you've truly benefited and it's been a very rich, and just interesting experience working together. So, thank you so much for talking with us today.

Doran Walker: Thanks, Ellen, thanks Philip.

David Kay: Yes, thank you Ellen, thank you Philip, and thank you, Doran, for this opportunity.

Ellen Gardner: You have just been listening to our interview with Doran Walker and David Kay. Doran is owner and Healthcare Consultant for BioMD consulting and a Patient Care Manager for Specialized Geriatrics Glenrose for Alberta Health Services. He’s also the National Co-chair for Emerging Health Leaders Canada. David Kay is Principal Consultant with David Kay and Associates, a healthcare management consultancy. For more information about HIROC and to listen to past episodes of Healthcare Changemakers, go to our website, Thank you for listening.

Thank you for listening. You can hear more episodes of Healthcare Change Makers on our website and on your favourite podcasting apps. If you like what you hear, please rate us or post a review. Healthcare Change Makers is recorded by HIROC's Communications and Marketing team and produced by Podfly Productions. Follow us on Twitter at @hirocgroup or email us at We'd love to hear from you.