Pay it forward: How to be an effective mentor


5 Apr 2017


Learning how to effectively mentor junior doctors could be the catalyst for a much needed cultural change in medicine, say the authors of a new book that gives doctors practical tips aimed at supporting the mentoring process.

The authors of The Intentional Mentor in Medicine: A Toolkit for Mentoring Doctors believe it is possible to create change in medicine with enough people participating in or exposed to a process of helping others.

 “We often hear people say they have benefitted from the mentoring process and that they want to pay that forward. The centrepiece of mentoring is that it gives importance to being a positive influence in younger doctors’ lives,” coauthor Ms Diane Salvador told the limbic.

Ms Salvador, who works a psychologist working in medical education and Dr Joel Wight, a Melbourne haematologist, have created ‘a book for actioning rather than reading’. It features practical templates and worksheets to support the mentoring relationship.

“It’s a textbook combined with a set of activities and prompts for decision-making,” Ms Salvador said.

She said it was a requirement in most hospitals that doctors invest in the training and development of successive cohorts however mentoring was very different from clinical supervision.

“Clinical supervision has a patient safety focus whereas mentoring has a broader scope and is more holistic. It is about integrating knowledge and skills, performance and values.”

Dr Wight agreed mentoring and clinical supervision were complementary processes.

“To ensure baseline competency we need existing structures of supervision and didactic teaching but mentoring can be a really important adjunct – to synthesise all they have learnt, what’s important to them and how to bring their gifts, skills and attributes to the table to be the best doctor they can be.”

Dr Wight said his involvement in the book arose out of his own positive experiences originally as a mentee and then a mentor.

“I think mentoring is the way forward in how we develop the next generation of doctors. Medicine has always had an apprenticeship style of learning and the mentoring partnership is the best example I know of for developing highly effective and highly competent doctors.”

While some institutions offer formalised mentoring programs, Dr Wight said he believed the best partnerships arose out of pre-existing relationships that were then formalised into goal-directed partnerships.

“I’d encourage people to actively seek out those partnerships. For example, I’m more likely to find a mentor who is a haematologist several years ahead of me but it doesn’t have to be. It could be someone in research, administration or policy development or in a related field such as a senior scientist.”

He said doctors with an interest in becoming a mentor would not find the process onerous.

“You might need to find an hour a month to sit down with the mentee for a catch up or there might be opportunities for mentoring on the run – on the ward or in the clinic.”

“The goal of the mentor is not to pick someone and create a Mini-Me but to help someone set and achieve their goals. Mentoring is important and there is huge need amongst junior doctors.”

He said mentors could assist with issues such as career guidance and work-life balance while keeping an eye out for mental health issues, which were unfortunately commonplace in junior doctors.

Ms Salvador cautioned against mentors also having a role in the mentee’s assessment or career progression although that was sometimes unavoidable.

She added that mentoring was not an exclusive relationship and junior doctors benefitted from the diversity and collective strengths of a number of mentors.

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