Mentoring is not just about asking an expert

By Helen Middleton, MSc (Education), FFRPS, FPharmS

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 other definitions of mentoring which describe the mentor’s role to facilitate reflection and learning in relation to the mentee’s agenda rather than acting as an expert or adviser

A mentor supports and encourages another to manage their own development in order that they may maximise their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the professional they want to be”.  Eric Parslow, The Oxford School of Coaching and Mentoring

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!

Anyone can be a mentor provided they have good communication skills, are able to use a variety of different questioning techniques, are willing to listen and put the mentee’s needs first and view the time spent with their mentee as a valued investment. I hope that this will empower pharmacists who don’t consider themselves as ‘experts’ to sign up to be a Mentor on the Royal Pharmaceutical Society mentoring platform and contribute to the development of other pharmacists.

The four stages of mentoring are:

Getting together involves finding a suitable mentor. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society mentoring platform launched to members in October 2019 facilitates easy and appropriate matching of mentor to mentee. When you join the platform as a Mentor – you create an online profile which describes your experience and what you can offer as a Mentor. Mentees create an online profile which describes what support they are looking for. Then the mentee searches for a Mentor who matches their needs, e.g. the mentee might want to change sector of practice and look for short term mentoring from someone who already works in that sector including CV building and interview practice. Or they might be looking for a longer term mentoring relationship to develop leadership or research skills. The mentoring platform provides a list of potential Mentors and the mentee can view potential Mentors’ profiles, decide on a preferred Mentor/s and send a request for mentoring via the platform.

The first meeting between a Mentor and mentee is a way for you both to check the compatibility of the relationship. You should discuss your preferred mentoring and learning styles with each other, to make sure that you understand how the relationship might work. 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 search for an alternative Mentor using the RPS mentoring platform. 

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.

Join the RPS mentoring platform today and find your perfect match
It’s easy to sign up and the mentoring platform facilitates easy and appropriate matching of mentor to mentee. 

You need to decide what you would like a Mentor to support you with. You can then select a Mentor based on their profile of skills, experience and interests.

Sign up on www.rpharms.com/mentoring 

Parental leave and returning to work

by Elen Jones, Director for RPS Wales, and Robbie Turner, RPS Director of Pharmacy and Member Experience

Elen Jones

Elen: Swapping the baby wipes, nappies and the bottles for policies, business plans and strategic meetings.

Maternity leave is over. In a blink of an eye, my baby boy is babbling away and walking round the furniture. He’s nine months, I just about feel like I’m getting to grips with being a mum of two and all of a sudden, it’s time to go back to work.

It’s been amazing to spend so much time with the boys; watching the little one develop and being able to take my eldest to school every day as he starts nursery has been brilliant. On the flip side, it’s often felt chaotic. The demands of two children are something else!

Three weeks into maternity leave I attended an interview and was fortunate enough to get a new role as Director of RPS Wales. 

It’s such a privilege to be returning to work and starting this role. I definitely had huge anxiety during the days leading up to my return. How will we cope with getting the boys to nursery and all be out the door by 8am? How will I catch up on the last 9 months? RPS think I’m the right person for the job, but what will members and my team really think? Impostor syndrome was creeping in! I did check out the RPS Return to Practice guide which helped allay some of my worries. I’ve been back in work for two weeks, and I miss my boys very much. Fortunately, my youngest has settled into nursery quite well (better than his big brother did!)

If I’m really honest, I’m actually feeling more like me again. I’m back to feeling more in control, enthused by the work and by my colleagues.  I’m full of ideas, getting out there and speaking to like-minded pharmacists. I’ve caught up with lots of our members already, everyone’s been so kind and supportive.

The sleepless nights unfortunately don’t stop when you return to work, but I don’t mind them as much now, time with the boys has become more precious. I so look forward to getting back from work to their big smiles and hugs.

So, a big thank you to all my colleagues and our amazing members for all the support and your patience while I’ve been away! I look forward to working with you all to make sure RPS and pharmacy continue to go from strength to strength.

Robbie Turner

Robbie: This year I’m going to get an extra three months off work. And, I’ve been surprisingly anxious about it.

Not that pre-holiday anxious when you’re trying to work out exactly how much ludicrously expensive sun cream to pack so you don’t need to bring any back with you. No, it’s a feeling that’s hard to describe but I bet there are millions or people (mainly women) who have experienced it even more deeply than me.

My partner Ben and I are soon (everything crossed) going to adopt two children. We’ve been aiming to make this a reality for over a year now. A big thank you to work friends and colleagues who have given me support and advice over the last year. Your words of encouragement have been hugely helpful. But, nobody warned me about this bit – preparing for paternity leave.

I know we’re lucky at RPS to have a good paternity leave entitlement. As part of our work on inclusion and diversity we identified that our gender pay gap was too high and introducing paternity pay was one of the tools we put in place to start to be a better employer for both men and women. Check out this article “Men’s parental leave is key to women’s progression

I’d like to think that I’ve always been supportive of women (and I think it has always been women who’ve taken any form of parental leave in my teams) when they announce the news that they are pregnant. I’ve cried a few times, but that’s always been with excitement rather than thinking about covering their maternity leave! I know this isn’t the experience of lots of women and that’s one of the reasons why I’m committed to taking my full paternity allowance. What I’ve never considered is what could be going through an expectant mother’s mind when they’re thinking about taking parental leave. And I now have a small insight into both their perceptions AND the realities..

I work with a great team who are brilliant at their jobs.  Even then, I’m worried about the added pressure me going off for three months will put on them.  BUT, when I really reflect, my main worry is the complete opposite. It’s that I will get found out as a bit of a fraud. That everyone will cope just fine without me or (arghhhhh) that it will be even better when I’m not here interfering and distracting people. Will I still have a job at the end of it all? How much will the world of pharmacy have moved on – will I be able to catch back up?

So, if I’m feeling like this – a (fairly confident), white man, in a senior role, only going on paternity leave for three months – then what must it be like for others who don’t have the same privilege of gender, colour, or seniority facing up to a year away from the work place?

Now, when women (and increasingly, men) tell me their great news about their pregnancy or adoption I’ll be just as excited but I’ll also understand how stressful planning for parental leave can be. Wish me luck!

Are you returning to practice? Check out our Return to Practice guide which is packed full of practical advice and tips to help you return to the workplace with confidence.

Help us tell your stories

By Sandra Gidley, RPS President

Pharmacists are highly trained and knowledgeable health professionals. We are available without appointment in our local communities and are on hand in our hospitals to advise patients and doctors on the safe and effective use of medicine.  Many people really value and often rely on their pharmacist to help to keep them well, so I was disappointed to see an opportunity to highlight the valuable role they play completely missed by ITV on its This Morning show last week.

And I was obviously not alone. Many people were moved to raise their concerns with Ofcom, with over 2,300 complaints made over the weekend. It’s no surprise to me that so many people felt so strongly. As pharmacists we are committed to supporting people to live healthy lives, to advise and treat many of the illnesses and conditions that they face. What did surprise me though was how out of touch and misinformed the guests on the show were about what pharmacists actually do.

For some, a big part of the role may be dispensing prescriptions and other medicines, but there is so much more to our jobs. One of the privileges of my position is that I see first-hand that pharmacists are going the extra mile every day. Pharmacists make sure that people – whether they are suffering from a long-term condition, fighting a one-off illness or perfectly healthy – are receiving the best quality of care and medical information possible.

There is strong evidence for our role in helping people to stop smoking and we are well equipped to advise about alcohol use and weight management in a sensitive and discreet way. We can help people stay healthy, avoid having to visit their GP and stay out of hospital, we support the earlier detection of long-term conditions, and we provide easy access to expert advice on medicines. We work in the community, hospitals, GP surgeries, care homes, prisons and lots of other sectors. And I could go on….

RPS has taken immediate action to counter the comments made last Friday and you can be assured that we will continue to champion the role of pharmacists, challenging misconceptions and promoting the great work that you do day in and day out.

But we can’t do this without you. We need you to tell us your stories, what you do every day, so we can shine a light on the profession’s achievements. Get in touch on TwitterInstagram or Facebook and share your  stories using #WeArePharmacy.

Together, we are pharmacy.

Championing the wellbeing of the profession

Pharmacist Support Trustees and Staff Chief Executive, Danielle Hunt

By Danielle Hunt, Pharmacist Support

For those unfamiliar with Pharmacist Support – we’re the profession’s independent charity supporting pharmacists and their families, former pharmacists and pharmacy students in times of need.

In the past 10 years we’ve seen the number of acts of support the charity has been called upon to provide increase from over 700 in 2008 to over 7,000 in 2018. As we’ve grown and developed as a charity – so have the pressures. Although this is something we’ve been monitoring over the years through enquiries and service use, in May of this year we felt that the time was right to reach out to the profession once again, and to ask more generally about the issues and the challenges causing you the most stress today.

Through an online survey and series of in-depth interviews you told us that you needed support with stress at work, with work-life balance and with managing your wellbeing. In October we joined forces with the RPS as part of their workforce wellbeing campaign to dig a little deeper into these issues. You highlighted that this stress was linked to unrealistic expectations, leading to concerns around making mistakes and burnout.

Back in 2013 the charity recognised a need for more proactive support and following receipt of a large legacy from Pharmacist Robert Wardley, set about researching, piloting and launching a new wellbeing service. This service – delivered in a workshop format – consisted of information to help individuals understand the importance of wellbeing, recognise the signs and symptoms of stress in themselves and others and to provide tools and techniques to help manage those pressures. To date this service – now made up of workshops covering resilience, time management and assertiveness, webinars and fact sheets – has supported thousands of individuals (students and pharmacists) across the profession – almost 5,000 acts of wellbeing support in total.

Another part of this wellbeing support is our Listening Friends stress helpline. Staffed by trained volunteers who are pharmacists, this service provides a listening ear to individuals struggling with a range of personal and professional issues. In the last 10 years these dedicated volunteers have made over 2,700 calls to colleagues in stress & been able to help them navigate their way through many challenging situations.

Monitoring and understanding these pressures helps us ensure the charity’s services remain relevant and useful and the information we’ve gathered and you’ve provided through these surveys has informed the development our new 5 year strategy. Moving forward Pharmacist Support will be looking to further develop and shape our proactive wellbeing support and will aim to champion the wellbeing of those in the pharmacy profession alongside partners like the RPS.

So, thank you for your input over this past year. We look forward to sharing our new strategy with you and hope that you’ll join us on this new phase of our journey!