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 

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