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Mentoring is not just about asking an expert

Mentoring provides opportunities for pharmacists to obtain guidance and support at any time in their career. Those who are new to the profession, changing sector of practice, dealing with difficult work situations or developing a career plan often enlist the help of a mentor.

Mentoring is traditionally defined as “a relationship in which a more experienced or knowledgeable person helps a less experienced or knowledgeable person”. However, there are numerous definitions of mentoring. Personally, I prefer to define mentoring using a non-directive approach: “A mentor facilitates reflection and learning in relation to the mentee’s agenda rather than acting as an expert or adviser.”

By taking this approach I do not need to be more experienced that my mentee. It is also not necessary for me to be specialised in his or her area of practice. This approach opens the door for mentees to learn with a wider range of mentors; for example, I have been successfully mentored by a dietitian and even by the director of an art gallery!

The four stages of mentoring are: getting together; getting to know each other; learning together; and saying goodbye.

Getting together involves finding a suitable mentor. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society mentoring service, launched to members last month, includes an online database to facilitate the matching of mentors and mentees (www.rpharms.com/you-and-your-career/mentoring.asp). I think it is important for the mentor to explore the mentee’s expectations before agreeing to enter into a mentoring relationship. I ask the mentee two key questions: “How would you define mentoring?” and “What do you want and expect from a mentor?”

Mentoring is likely to be ineffective if the mentee is seeking advice and guidance (a directive approach) but the mentor intends to empower the mentee to find their own solutions through questioning and reflection (a non-directive approach). In these situations it is better for the mentee to find an alternative mentor.

All too often mentoring relationships miss the vital step of getting to know each other before launching straight into discussing difficult work situations or developing a career plan. Taking time to get to know the “whole person” (rather than his or her professional persona only) at the start of the mentoring relationship is necessary to establish rapport and trust, otherwise mentees can feel uncomfortable disclosing information. In my opinion, the first and second stages of mentoring are the most important in determining the success of a mentoring relationship. Get these initial aspects right and you will be well on the way to fulfilling the next step: learning together. I believe shared learning within the mentoring relationship brings many benefits for the mentor as well as the mentee.

The final stage is saying goodbye, since all good things must come to an end. My motto is: “Mentoring is like Red Bull — it gives you wings!” One of the hardest things for mentors to do is to let go and let their mentees fly. I always like to end by looking back over the mentoring relationship together and celebrating success.

Citation: Clinical Pharmacist URI: 11083242

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  • Helen Middleton

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