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Help GROW tomorrow’s pharmacists

In the first of a series of articles on tutoring, Helen Middleton explains why readers should consider becoming tutors, and how tutors and trainees can benefit from the experience

A tutor guides another person through a programme of study and acts as a role model, teacher and assessor. A tutor provides pastoral support and support for learning and development. If you are thinking about becoming a tutor, consider the following questions:

  • Do I have excellent communication skills?
  • Can I ask meaningful questions?
  • Do I have the ability to give feedback?
  • Am I willing to listen?
  • Do I view the time spent with a trainee as a valued investment?

If you answered “yes” then you have the potential to become a great tutor.

Helen Middleton

Get to know each other

Spend time getting to know your trainee from the outset and build rapport. There can many be challenges and obstacles along the learning journey and your trainee needs to feel that he or she would be comfortable talking to you if he or she is experiencing difficulties.

It is also important to discuss and agree expectations. If your trainee is expecting you to have a solution at your fingertips for every problem and you are expecting to have a more hands-off approach, a misunderstanding is inevitable. I will never forget a situation when I was a paediatric specialist pharmacist and my trainee asked me: “How can you be my tutor and teach me everything I need to know when all you do is paediatrics?” I had wrongly assumed that my trainee’s expectations of the tutor’s role matched my expectations. I needed to explain to her that other people would be involved in her training and that she, too, had to take responsibility for her own self-directed learning.

Adapt your coaching style

There are many different coaching styles, ranging from direct instruction to a hands-off approach where the tutor acts as a facilitator of self-directed learning. Tailor your approach to your trainee’s level of competence and confidence. You may want to take a hands-on approach at the start of a training programme when your trainee is unaware what he or she does not know or when he or she is tackling a new or particularly difficult area of practice. However, continual instruction can lead to a trainee relying on his or her tutor to solve problems rather than developing his or her own problem-solving skills. Therefore, you need to identify an appropriate time to move towards a more hands-off approach. This could involve:

  • Listening and asking questions rather than telling, advising or providing instruction
  • Encouraging your trainee to find answers for him- or herself
  • Facilitating problem-solving and decision-making

The goal, reality, options and will (GROW) model is a useful way to structure a conversation to help your trainee explore a problem, identify options to solve it and take the options forward into action.

Positive feedback

Assessing your trainee is a key part of your involvement in his or her development. The assessment must be fair and objective, and help your trainee to understand how he or she is performing in relation to the requirements of the programme. A tutor should give feedback to help his or her trainee to develop competence. This includes positive reinforcement (ie, letting your trainee know what has been done well so that he or she can continue doing it). Where your trainee has learning needs, provide coaching to help him or her to grow and develop.

Dealing with unacceptable behaviour

The phrase “nip in the bud” refers to nipping off new buds to prevent a plant from wasting energy by growing unwanted branches and blossoms. It is more effective than pruning.

A similar analogy can be applied to tutoring. Think of your trainee as a special plant. You need to nurture your trainee for him or her to grow. But if you fail to provide the correct care and attention your trainee could grow wild — he or she may develop unacceptable attitudes or behaviours, or perform poorly. You need to nip this in the bud in a timely manner to prevent recurrence or escalation of the issue. Deal with the problem when it is small — do not put it off until the appraisal.

The NIP model (see Panel) can be used to structure a conversation with your trainee to address such issues.

The NIP model

N Notify your trainee of unacceptable behaviour, attitude or poor performance

I Initiate discussion — ask questions, listen to your trainee’s response and explore any underlying cause to the problem

P Plan what you both are going to do about it. Agree what changes need to happen and when, and explain the consequences for the trainee if he or she does not change

What is in it for you?

Becoming a tutor is an opportunity to advance your practice. Cluster 5 of the Advanced Pharmacy Framework (APF) lists competencies related to education, training and development, which focus on your development as a role model and mentor, and your involvement in conducting education and training, professional development and linking practice to education and educational policy. As a tutor you will have numerous opportunities to demonstrate these skills and provide evidence of advanced practice.

Being a tutor and making a positive contribution to another person’s development is extremely rewarding. An enthusiastic tutor takes delight in helping trainees to explore their thoughts and feelings, assisting them in finding their own solutions and watching them grow and flourish.

Helen Middleton, MSc (Education), MRPharmS, FFRPS, is a pharmacy professional development manager at London Pharmacy Education and Training.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.11137638

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