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The importance of good mentoring, during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond

Mentoring can help pharmacists form strong bonds with colleagues early in their career, with mentors providing both professional and emotional support. But mentors can also benefit from being mentees, as senior members of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society explain.

Mentoring over coffee

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The support provided by mentors ranges from advice on the preregistation year to career development and even just being there as someone to talk to during tough times

The importance of mentoring as extra support for provisionally registered pharmacists was highlighted by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) when it published its policy on provisional registration on 21 May 2020.

Speaking to The Pharmaceutical Journal shortly after the policy was published, Mark Voce, director of education and standards at the GPhC, said the regulator expects to see “appropriate signposting to mentoring arrangements, and other provisions, that we expect other bodies such as the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) and others to put in place: to make sure people have that support in what is obviously going to be a new experience for them”.

The RPS’s own mentoring platform, which was originally relaunched in October 2019, has now been further upgraded to help “respond to the immediate pressures and needs of the profession”, Nargis Christopher, education and professional development manager at the RPS, said.

In particular, the list of skills — specific issues or areas that mentees can flag up, indicating that they are seeking expertise in these fields — has been expanded to include IT skills, independent prescribing, consultant pharmacist credentialing and development, as well as provisional registration.

The platform was established, Christopher said, “to provide a tool that you can use to find mentors to support your career development, or to share your knowledge and experience with mentees”. She added that, to date, the platform has more than 900 registered users, and almost 300 mentor/mentee relationships.

Some users are registered both as mentors and mentees, including Gail Fleming, director for education and professional development at the Society.

“I have personally benefited immensely from being both a mentor and mentee”, Fleming said.

“I have valued the counsel of my mentors and, as a mentor, I have connected to the wider circle of pharmacists outside my immediate organisation: actively listening to my mentees not only provided them with the support they needed, but helped me to better understand perspectives of others at different career stages.”

Andre Yeung, a community pharmacist and member of the RPS English Pharmacy Board, registered as a mentor because “although I hate to admit it, I’m getting older and maybe a little wiser too. I just think it’s a worthwhile thing to do, to help pharmacist colleagues who are trying to make the best career they can within the profession.

“When I look at my CV I can see that I’ve now got good experience and can pass some of that on through the RPS mentoring programme — which should enable others to get that career break, or make that step change to something new and rewarding. We spend a lot time at work and we deserve to enjoy what we do.”

Yeung and his first mentee “talked about things like CV development, networking, job applications and interviews. She found a new job, and has started that role now.

“It was really rewarding for both of us. And it’s not that our relationship is over: she knows that she can get in touch for a chat any time, if she needs to.”

Aamer Safdar, pharmacy education, training and workforce development team lead at Barts Health NHS Trust, said that he has been an informal mentor to many pharmacists over the years, and so “the opportunity to be formally part of the RPS mentor scheme was something I was never going to turn down”. 

“I really enjoy mentoring my colleagues who are at different stages of their careers, ranging from when they were pharmacy students through to some who are experienced pharmacists. I would encourage all pharmacy professionals to consider being a mentor as you learn so much from others while helping them at the same time. The pleasure of seeing someone grow as a person, and professional, over a period of time is hugely rewarding.”

Wan Ting Tee, a preregistration pharmacist working in Peterborough City Hospital, is currently being mentored by Fleming. Tee said: “I [signed up because I] wanted more advice about my career pathway; what would happen after the preregistration year, and what kind of sector I could go into.

“Although we have a tutor, because I’m working in a hospital, my tutor is not always with me. So having another mentor is a bonus, to support me throughout my preregistration journey — giving me career advice and insight into life after the preregistration year.”

Although Tee and Fleming originally spoke about career development, they continue to have general catchups. “Gail’s not just giving me career advice; she also supports me mentally. She asks me how I’m doing; during this time of COVID-19, she asked how my preregistration was going. We catch up at least once a month”.

Tee’s advice to those considering seeking a mentor is simply “go for it”.

“As a preregistration pharmacist, provisionally registered pharmacist or junior pharmacist, we all need support. Especially now: some trainees might find this situation quite stressful, and sometimes their tutor might be under pressure as well. An RPS mentor might be able to help in a different way. I would encourage all RPS members to try it,” she added.

Katy Beeton uses the RPS mentoring platform as a mentee. Beeton, a second year pharmacy student at the University of East Anglia and the Eastern Area Coordinator for the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association, told The Pharmaceutical Journal that her mentor helps with “confidence, motivation and a bit of direction as well. At the moment we’re talking a lot about my studying techniques and revision.

“I once got to a point where I was feeling overwhelmed by the information in my lectures. I thought I couldn’t understand what was going on, but I was putting myself down before I’d even tried. He helped break down that barrier of being so afraid”. 

Beeton said that the mentoring scheme is “very tailored to what I need. If I wanted more advice on specific work-related things, placements or my career options, I know that he’s able to provide that advice”. 

“Success is built on the knowledge and experience of others who came before us,” said Christopher.

“Having a mentor, and using their support, gives you a better chance of progressing faster,” she added.

“Equally, by sharing your experience and mentoring others, you will help them to leap forward — and this benefits us all.”

As the sector continues to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, Fleming believes it is “more important than ever for the profession to work together to provide strong support for each other”.

“In the coming months, preregistration pharmacists and those in their early careers, in particular, will be looking for support and guidance. Many of them have had, or will have, different experiences to pre-pandemic times. Mentors will be invaluable in helping them navigate their way through the challenges they face and also to proactively plan for the future.

“I actively encourage all of our members to sign up to the RPS mentoring scheme and play their part in investing in the next generation of our profession.”

 

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2020.20208037

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