What is mentoring?
Mentoring is the practice of facilitating development. It is a dynamic process which will change throughout a doctor's career. Mentors provide support, direction and an objective view on how the mentee can develop and progress in their working environment.
There are many definitions of mentorship available across the business world. It is generally accepted that there is an overlap of skills with a supervisor or a coach. However, supervisors need to be more directive and coaches generally do not need to have specialist knowledge of the individual’s area of practice, with questioning used to help the individual to find their own solution. Mentoring tends to involve an experienced individual using their greater knowledge and understanding of the work or workplace to support the development of an inexperienced colleague; which may also involve opening doors for them.
Mentoring is not just a one-way process that benefits the mentee.
Mentoring can be a helpful tool to aid development of doctors at all stages of their career. It is not just a one-way process that benefits the mentee. There are many well documented benefits for all involved including the employing organisation and regulatory bodies such as improved retention rates and work performance as well as improved working relationships. It has recently been well used as a tool to encourage equality and reduce discrimination, with schemes targeted at minority groups.
Mentoring has become increasingly prominent on the medical education agenda. Most medical schools, postgraduate deaneries, royal colleges, and NHS trusts and employers mention mentoring in some context. It is purported to be important to these organisations. The Department of Health and the NHS also value mentoring, as part of the Improving Working Lives initiative. The CMO (England) report on Women in Medicine and a BMA study asserted that mentoring can increase retention within the profession.
If a mentoring scheme is a formal relationship with the permission of the employer, time should be set aside for discussions. If it is formal, it may need to be job planned for the mentor (if a consultant or SAS doctor). Mentee time is often included within SPAs in the job plan. The BMA would strongly encourage employers to have mentoring schemes in place for all permanent staff and to allow adequate time in job plans for this to take place.
It is also often the case that mentoring may be a short term relationship, and it is important to recognise that it does not have to be long term. It may come to a natural conclusion or either party may need to break the relationship.
Benefits of mentoring
The mentee gains:
- A better understanding of the culture and structure of the organisation
- Improved self-confidence
- Increased skills and knowledge
- A supportive environment in which successes and failures can be evaluated
- Provision of necessary support and information
- Potential for increased visibility and demonstration of their career focus
- Individual attention from experienced senior colleagues
The mentor gains:
- Satisfaction from contributing to the mentee's development
- Enhanced self-esteem
- Revitalised interest in work through an opportunity to examine one's own achievements and skills
- Opportunities to test new ideas
- Improved ability to share experience and knowledge
What makes a good mentor?
Some key characteristics that make a good mentor include approachability, a genuine interest in others, patience, objectivity, a willingness to share your experiences and a passion to develop others. Some of the key skills include good questioning, active listening, challenging, probing, clarifying and reframing.
Being an expert in a field, topic or specialty does not necessarily mean that someone will be a good mentor. Understanding something and helping another person to understand something are two different situations.
Although it is helpful, a mentor does not need to have a complete understanding of the working environment of the mentee in order to be able to offer advice and support, but they will need to be skilled in the process of mentorship to ensure the mentee gets the maximum benefit from the relationship. Training for mentors and mentees is essential.