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Just started a new job? Or is work a bit tough? You might profit from a mentor

The importance of career support for pharmacists in the current economic and healthcare climate cannot be underestimated and mentoring is a method of helping individuals rise to the challenges they may face in developing themselves and their careers, writes Nina Barnett, Royal Pharmaceutical Society lead for mentoring. She describes how the RPS plans to facilitate mentoring for its members

 

MentorMentoring is an excellent tool for providing guidance and support for pharmacists at any time in their career, from being new to the profession or thinking of changing sector to dealing with difficult work situations or reflecting on the avenues open to maintain an optimal work-life balance.

Mentoring is often defined as a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. The activities involved can be varied and the scope can be wide.

For example, the term can refer to a relationship in which the mentor provides guidance on development in general or on specific topics. It can also overlap with coaching, career guidance, support by peers and tutoring.

The term “mentoring” is sometimes used to describe the relationship between a tutor and tutee. The terminology can be confusing in pharmacy because for preregistration trainees, the tutor is a “qualification mentor” due to the regulatory requirement for guidance through a programme of study leading to a professional qualification. In addition, some have both tutors and mentors.

In fact, mentors do not have to be experts or teachers. For example, peer mentoring relationships focus on mentee self-directed outcomes and the mentor is not a tutor but rather uses a facilitative approach to help mentees achieve their goals.

Indeed, a pharmacist who has newly registered can be an effective mentor for a preregistration trainee because he or she will have recent experience of the preregistration year and of the examination.

Benefits to mentees

There are a number of benefits for mentees. Being mentored allows the mentee to improve his or her understanding of work issues and to be exposed to different approaches to dealing with them. The mentor can be used as a sounding board for ideas and, because the relationship and conversations are confidential, the mentee can speak freely, without fear of repercussions.

Information can be disclosed privately to a mentor who, coming from the a similar environment, will be able to understand and empathise, but alternatively the mentee might choose to be mentored by someone in a different sector in order to expand his or her horizons.

Menaz Kermali, a specialist pharmacist in mental health, was mentored as a junior pharmacist. “Mentoring provided me with support and practical advice on how to deal with challenging situations, and gave me an insight on how to develop my career path and make use of my strengths and weaknesses,” she said.

Most people who have been mentored describe an increase in confidence as one of the key benefits. For example, Gita Vadher, pharmacist prescriber and deputy clinical services manager at Northwick Park Hospital, North West London Hospitals NHS Trust, benefited from mentoring when she became a pharmacist prescriber.

“Although I was very confident and experienced as a pharmacist practitioner, I was new to pharmacist prescribing. I wanted a mentor for support and to guide me through training and in my role as a new prescriber,” she explained.

“Mentoring helped me with the practical aspects of pharmacist prescribing, such as how pharmacist prescribing would work locally on ward settings and getting registered at the trust, etc. Through mentoring I was able to address the challenges of a new prescriber, which included defining my scope of practice in order to maximise patient contribution and ensuring my prescribing was safe and effective,” she said.

As well as offering opportunities for self-learning, mentoring can also help mentees focus on their priorities. Alexandra Thurlow, a pharmacist in Scotland, wanted career direction after 16 years in community (as manager and locum), hospital and public health pharmacy roles and contacted the RPS about seeking advice from a mentor in October 2010.

She said: “Over the years, I have found that those that are thriving (whether in professional or general life) have often been blessed with having had one or more mentors. While some mentor-mentee relationships evolve naturally, I’m delighted the RPS is facilitating these critical roles, as it has the potential to have incredibly positive implications for all pharmacy related professionals, not just in work, but life in general.

“I know I would not be where I am now if it were not for several folk who have actively invested in me over the years.”

Mentoring can be tailored to suit an individual and can be formal (eg, through a programme or scheme) or informal. Formal schemes are found in organisations and usually have a specific purpose, timescale and agreed goals. In an informal mentoring relationship the mentor might be a friend or colleague and possible goals and outcomes can be considered but they will not necessarily be planned in advance.

There are a number of ways to find a mentor and this depends on what type of mentoring you want (eg, formal or informal) and your goals. For example, you can ask if your employer has any mentoring schemes to suit your needs — there might be bespoke schemes available through your organisation to develop practitioners new to a role, including fast-track schemes for leadership.

Location can also affect choice: some people are happy to conduct mentoring relationships remotely whereas others prefer face-to-face contact and mentors can be virtual or local.

Rewards for mentors

Mentors often express satisfaction in helping others to achieve their goals as well as enjoying the opportunity to give back to the profession. As a mentor, the satisfaction of seeing your mentee overcome difficulties and create the future they aspire to is extremely rewarding.

I have been fortunate throughout my career to be mentored, both formally and informally, by people who inspired me to achieve my potential and who supported me through the various challenges along the way. I am pleased to be able to mentor others in the hope that they will gain from it as much as I did.

However, in developing others, mentors also increase their own skills and may gain a different perspective on work. They also find that their confidence around addressing issues and in dealing with people from different backgrounds increases.

Mentors do not necessarily need specific knowledge in the mentee’s area of practice (they might simply be required to ask questions to aid reflection and help the individual to self-solve problems) but some skills, such as the ability to question, listen and provide constructive feedback, are essential.

For both mentors and mentees, mentoring presents many opportunities for continuing professional development. The relationship promotes learning, commitment and motivation, all of which support completion of CPD entries.

Entries may be structured around learning that results from planned or unplanned meetings and discussions, providing and receiving support or feedback, and evaluating progress either as a mentor or mentee. Mentoring experiences can be used to identify or refine learning focus.

Support

Many professional organisations recognise the benefit of mentoring services and provide this service for their members. Most health-related royal colleges, such as nursing, psychiatry and obstetrics and gynaecology, offer mentorship to their respective students and trainees.

Other professional organisations, such as the Institute of Engineering and Technology, also operate a “by members for members” system helping their members to find a trained mentor outside the mentee’s workplace to help identify and encourage pursuit of professional development opportunities.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society is developing its services to help its members find mentoring support. For those who want a face-to-face mentoring relationship, the RPS is working with its local practice forums to help members access mentoring support. LPF meetings present an excellent opportunity to meet colleagues with a variety of skills and experience, giving unparalleled access to colleagues from other sectors.

Mentees can meet mentors directly or be put in touch with a mentor through LPF colleagues. Equally, for those who would like to share the benefit of their experience and want to support pharmacists locally, LPFs are an ideal place to find a mentee. Some pharmacists will be looking for a colleague in a similar sector of practice.

The RPS online networking groups are an excellent means of contact. We now have over 20 groups, from a veterinary pharmacists group and an academic pharmacists group to a care home group and a pioneer group. This network, which can be accessed via www.rpharms.com enables contact with colleagues in every sector of practice and at a variety of career stages, including retired colleagues.

The RPS is also developing a database for all sectors of pharmacy, to allow members to register online as a mentor or search for a mentor to suit their needs. The website, originally created by the Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists and the United Kingdom Clinical Pharmacy Association to serve NHS pharmacists, has been given to the RPS.

The site asks mentees about their aims for the mentoring relationship as well as their practice so mentees can be directed to the most appropriate person. Mentors who register can use the website to self assess their suitability. The site also contains excellent resources in the form of a mentoring handbook and a mentoring resources guide, aimed at both mentors and mentees.

The website is currently operating at www.pharmentor.nhs.uk but this will be replaced by an RPS facility (accessible via www.rpharms.com) later in 2011. Our aim is to provide mentoring services for the profession, by the profession, in order to maximise members’ potential to achieve what they hope to accomplish and offer an excellent service to patients and the public.

 

More information at the RPS website. Members with questions about mentoring, can email support@rpharms.com or call 0845 257 2570

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 11068892

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