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Becoming a better mentor

Pharmacy professionals act as mentors and are mentored by others throughout their careers. Francesca Rivers finds out how you can improve your mentoring skills.

Seminar with teacher and students

Source: Matej Kastelic

Mentoring is an important part of a career in pharmacy

Mentoring occurs in every professional setting in some form. You may well have acted as a mentor, or been mentored, in a professional capacity – without even knowing it. Mentoring is relevant to pharmacy professionals throughout their careers. Yet feedback from a mentoring training programme currently under way in London suggests that many pharmacy professionals lack a clear understanding of what mentoring is and how it can be harnessed effectively.

What is mentoring?

To mentor is to advise, train or counsel; it need not be a formal role. Every time you give guidance or feedback to a less experienced colleague, you adopt a mentor’s role. Similarly, when seeking advice from a trusted team member, you are being mentored. Many pharmacy professionals regularly act as mentors and are mentored by others on a daily basis.

This common process ensures knowledge is passed on and professionals develop the skills they need. In a pharmacy setting particularly, it enables individuals to transition from able students to competent practitioners, and then gain expertise in their chosen fields.

Despite the important role that mentoring plays in the pharmacy profession, no centralised programme exists to teach effective mentoring skills. Guidance for pharmacist and pharmacy technician preregistration tutors is available from the General Pharmaceutical Council. Mentorship is encouraged in most NHS training programmes and many community pharmacies, particularly large multiples with formal professional development schemes. Additionally, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) website has a newly-revamped mentoring section. But that is about as far as pharmacy mentoring resources go.

Christopher Cutts, director of the Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education (CPPE), says there has been a woeful under-provision of resources across the profession, be it community, hospital or primary care. “We need to come up with some models that will provide pharmacists with a range of mentoring opportunities and support,” he says.

Testing a new approach

Lesley Johnson, development lead for the RPS Faculty, is particularly aware of the lack of mentoring support in primary care. “Within that sector, which is where my [professional] experience is, there is no formal mentoring network,” she explains. “Everybody is very isolated.”

Johnson and a team of pharmacy professionals have been running a mentoring training scheme for community pharmacists in London. The scheme is organised by several organisations, including the RPS, University College London’s school of pharmacy, London Pharmacy Education and Training (LPET) and two local education and training boards, Health Education South London and Health Education North Central and East London, which are funding the project.

Helen Middleton, pharmacy professional development manager at LPET, developed the training and delivers it along with Theresa Rutter, a retired pharmacist with extensive mentoring experience. The scheme combines face-to-face training, online learning resources and independent reflection, Middleton explains.

The training element consists of two evening workshops. The first session introduces mentoring and explores its definition and common myths; the second allows attendees to pair up and put mentoring theory into practice, using the popular GROW (goal, reality, options, will) mentoring framework (The Pharmaceutical Journal 2014;292:453)

The workshops revealed interesting preconceptions about what mentoring is about, says Middleton. “There are a lot of people for whom the light bulb has gone on — who have been [acting as mentors] but not formally, and didn’t know it was mentoring,” she explains. The training is also popular with preregistration trainee tutors, particularly those working in independent pharmacies where support for the challenging role can be lacking, she says.

Learning at the workshops is reinforced via access to a website containing several resources, including self-assessment tools, links to relevant articles and a series of ten-minute webinars demonstrating coaching techniques. The mentoring section of the RPS website has also been updated with new resources, a dedicated discussion forum and a refreshed database for matching mentors with those looking for support.

Participants are encouraged to reflect on the training and consider making entries into the Foundation Pharmacy Framework or their RPS Faculty portfolios, and their continuing professional development records, depending on their professional goals and priorities. “We’re giving [pharmacists] the tools to get themselves to a foundation level of mentoring,” Johnson says. “It is then up to them, as part of their professional development, to decide what they are going to do with those skills.”

Demand for the scheme

Around 100 pharmacists have been endorsed as mentors through the scheme since it began in spring 2014, and initial feedback has been positive. “The appetite is there,” Johnson observes. “[Participants are] very enthusiastic and recognise the importance of these skills in every aspect of their professional lives.”

Many of those attending the training begin with the belief that they lack the skills or expertise needed for mentoring, says Middleton. “We’ve found it is empowering for mentors to realise that they don’t have to be experts and have the solution at their fingertips for everything the mentee brings to them,” she says.

Mentoring project leader Krupa Depala, who co-ordinated the training sessions, says outcomes of the scheme are to be monitored. All participants complete an evaluation form before and after the training, and the feedback will be assessed to establish whether participants are benefiting from the training and putting it into practice.

More training sessions are planned in London later this year and the aim is to extend the scheme across Great Britain as soon as possible, using a mentoring champion in each RPS local practice forum (LPF) to cascade the training and identify needs locally. Building a strong mentoring network will be pivotal to RPS plans to create a more formal professional development structure in pharmacy. “For the success of the Foundation Pharmacy Framework and [RPS] Faculty we need mentors out there, especially [to support] return to practice or changing sectors,” Johnson says. The introduction of postgraduate diplomas for community pharmacists, to match what currently exists in the hospital sector, would also require a quality-assured mentoring network to be in place, she adds.

What training attendees had to say

Karan Rana, mentoring trainee

Karan Rana, a mentoring trainee

The Pharmaceutical Journal spoke to two pharmacists who recently completed the mentoring training in London to find out why they took part, and what they feel they have gained.

Outpatient clinical pharmacist Karan Rana, who has been in practice for three years, attended because he believed there were areas in which he could improve. He says the training helped him to gain confidence and learn different mentoring methods, which he has already had the opportunity to put into practice.

Niriksha Desai, who has practised as a community pharmacist in London for 16 years, attended the training to help her with mentoring staff now and as a preregistration trainee tutor in the future. “I wanted to be able to understand more and help my colleagues,” she says.

Niriksha Desai, mentoring trainee

Mentoring trainee Niriksha Desai

Like Rana, Desai says the training boosted her confidence. “I am able to come to conclusions about how certain situations should be handled,” she says. “Before the training I would have to consult my boss to intervene, whereas now I handle the situation [myself].”

Scheme needs to span the profession

Cutts is keen to see a mentoring scheme of this kind made available to pharmacists in all sectors of the profession. He highlights the 2013 RPS report of the commission on future models of pharmacy care, ‘Now or never: shaping pharmacy for the future’ (The Pharmaceutical Journal, 2014;292:453), which stresses the need for more personal support in all pharmacy settings. “[At the CPPE] we are really keen to come up with some models to help,” Cutts says. “We’re looking at collaborations with the RPS to [explore] what that might look like.”

Pharmacists would benefit from being able to use the RPS as a central access point for all mentoring resources, Cutts believes. “I don’t think that your average pharmacist would know where to go for help and advice,” he says. “At the moment there are so many places.” Cutts says creative partnership working will be needed to come up with a model that works for the entire profession, particularly as the RPS is in the relatively early stages of its development. “I still think the RPS is the lynchpin, but not everyone is engaged — that’s why [organisations like] the National Pharmacy Association and Company Chemists’ Association need to act in a collaborative way,” he adds.

Cutts says the task of building a comprehensive mentor support network for pharmacy should not be underestimated, but feels it is achievable and well worth the effort. Ideally, he would like to see mentoring become engrained in a pharmacist’s normal professional development pathway. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the more we reinforce this through having good, well-trained mentors and coaches, the better the outcomes will be,” he says.

Not every pharmacist will need a full package of support, nor do pharmacy organisations need to scramble to devise a gold-plated mentoring system in the first instance, he points out. “We can do an awful lot with just organising [resources] and giving a better narrative,” he says. “It can start off in a robust but not overly complex model, which can make a big difference.”

RPS members interested in taking part in mentoring training that is taking place in London later in 2014, or those interested in becoming an RPS mentoring champion, can contact or call RPS support on 0333 733 2570.

How other healthcare professions support mentoring

Pharmacy is not the only healthcare profession with its sights set on improving mentoring support. The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) recently launched a mentoring scheme for medical trainees and foundation-year doctors. “In this first year of the scheme we are facilitating 32 [mentor-mentee] partnerships,” an RCP spokesman says. There are plans to expand the scheme.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists recently set up a mentoring scheme aimed at new consultants and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow, the UK’s only multidisciplinary Royal College, runs a mentoring scheme that provides training and a mentor-mentee matching database, much like the one for pharmacy.

No formal mentoring schemes are offered by the Royal College of Nursing, Royal College of Surgeons or the Royal College of General Practitioners.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.20066352

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Supplementary images

  • Karan Rana, mentoring trainee
  • Niriksha Desai, mentoring trainee

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