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How to maximise the value of mentoring in healthcare

How to maximise the value of mentoring in healthcare
By Dr David Mathew, Learning and Development Manager at NHS Arden and GEM CSU
15 May 2024

Mentoring essentially enables one person to share knowledge and skills with another person to enable them to progress in their career. Alongside coaching and formal training, mentoring is increasingly relied upon within the healthcare sector to help individuals enhance core skills, improve confidence and understand different ways of working. But how do you know if mentoring is right for you? And if it is, how do you access it?

Mentoring or coaching?

Coaching tends to be goal oriented and aims to tackle a specific issue. It provides a confidential, safe space to support the coachee to achieve their goals and desired outcomes, but it can also be helpful if an individual finds themselves at a crossroads or feels stuck in a particular area of their life.

Mentoring, however, is less structured and can continue for long periods of time. It tends to be more hierarchical in nature, usually with a more experienced person supporting someone in a more junior role to help them develop their skills. It is mentee-led, so the onus is on the mentee to get the most from their mentor.

Depending on where you work, your organisation may run an internal mentoring scheme. This is often the case for hospital trusts or other large employers such as NHS Arden and GEM. Those working in primary care may be able to access local or national schemes offered by their local training hub. The NHS Leadership Academy also offers access to mentoring schemes for all those working in the NHS and social care.

Choosing a mentor

It’s important to consider what you want from your mentoring relationship as this will affect your choice of mentor. Are you looking for professional development in a specific clinical or administrative area? Is your focus more on developing leadership skills to move into a management role? Or are you more interested in developing a broader understanding of the NHS structure with a view to working in a multidisciplinary team or taking on a system or national role? Being clear in your own mind about your priorities will help you find a mentor with the appropriate skills to support you.

While it can be tempting to choose someone like-minded, there is considerable value to be had from different approaches. Being open to different perspectives allows you to benefit from broader experiences and ways of working which may challenge and enhance your own approach. However, this must be balanced alongside good rapport and the confidence to have open and honest conversations which are crucial to mentoring success.

Structuring your sessions

Unlike coaching, which is more structured, mentoring can take many forms depending on your needs. Typically, meeting monthly often works well. It allows time to act on topics discussed while maintaining momentum. But in some cases, a much less frequent model can work if the relationship is more about professional insight.

Mentoring is more flexible, but there is benefit in applying discipline to your sessions. This means being clear on your goal ā€“ consider what you want to achieve and how you will know once you have achieved it. Sharing this with your mentor at the outset and revisiting your progress will help you focus on outcomes.

Ahead of each session, consider what you want to discuss and what you want to get out of it. This could be support on how to complete a specific business or clinical challenge. You may want to discuss how you responded to a particular situation and ways you could improve your approach next time. Or you may have a new challenge on the horizon which you need guidance on. Whatever the topic, considering your priority for that meeting will lead to better outcomes.

The same is true for follow-up. Mentors wonā€™t typically hold you to account in the same way a line manager might, so again, the onus is on you as the mentee to use the guidance from each session to support your career development. Where appropriate, follow-up activity can form the basis of the next session ā€“ reporting on what you did, whether the advice or strategy you agreed in your session could be applied in practice, and why you might have altered your approach.

Different approaches

Although mentoring is typically about a more experienced person passing on their knowledge, NHS Arden & GEM has also implemented reverse mentoring, where more junior colleagues mentor senior leaders. This has been particularly helpful in identifying and addressing some of the barriers that exist for people from different ethnicities looking to progress their careers.

Likewise, enabling cross organisational mentoring within integrated care systems can help build stronger relationships and understanding across partners. This gives both mentors and mentees an opportunity to gain a more detailed insight into some of the challenges, opportunities and working methods of different organisations within the system, and how they collaborate.

In summary, to make the most out of mentoring:

  • Be clear on your goal
  • Ensure you and your mentor are well suited, both in rapport and skills
  • Be curious and open to different perspectives
  • Put the time in to prepare for and follow up your discussions.

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