The role of the mentor is vital for those in and out of training schemes. Good mentors are extraordinary people: they have the ability to turn around failing careers ad change failure into success (Lake, 2009, p. 612).
New patterns of working have created additional challenges in ensuring that trainees feel supported in the workplace, this being key to the progression of trainees in difficulty. Mentoring was highlighted by SCOPME (Standing Committee on Postgraduate Medical and Dental Education) in 1998 as a valuable framework for personal, professional and educational support. Its summary of recommendations includes a description of mentoring. It is fundamentally a voluntary relationship, and significantly, should be:
positive, facilitative, and developmental… not related to, nor... part of organisational systems of assessment or monitoring of performance (SCOPME, 1998, p. 2).
In a similar way, Fraser (2004) sees mentorship as a relationship akin to that in the apprenticeship model. It is characterised in particular by its breadth of compass – it is more than just a relationship between a junior and an educational supervisor, which may only last six months. The mentoring relationship should span a much longer period of time – perhaps many years, from early postgraduate days to positions of seniority and beyond.
Fraser echoes the perspective of SCOPME. He notes that a mentoring relationship with a direct clinical supervisor may not be possible. This is partly because of the brevity of the contact, but more fundamentally, because the employee/employer relationship may incorporate dynamics that run counter to the essence of the mentoring relationship, which:
adds the opportunity to guide, to answer questions, to challenge, and to nurture the development of the trainee (Fraser, 2004, p. 117).
In this context, a trainee’s formally designated educational supervisor may maintain contact with their mentee for a longer period of time, and be a little more remote from the work pressures than the direct clinical supervisor, thus fulfilling some of the preferred benefits of a mentor.
SCOPME’s recommendations for mentoring are that informal structures should be encouraged. There is reluctance to recommend formalisation of mentoring within organisations. Fraser agrees: the ideal relationship of mentor and mentee happens unusually, is informal and usually as a result of deliberate choice by the junior of one more senior from whom they are ready to seek counsel. Indeed, whether this kind of relationship can be organised by an external agency is debatable, but Fraser suggests that at least senior doctors should be asked to volunteer as mentors – to fill the role of ‘teaching, coaching, supporting, counselling, and sharing information with the protégé’ (2004).
For more information on mentoring, the ‘Explore further’ section includes a paper on ‘Mentoring: theory and practice’.