The value of mentoring

Caroline Osborne-White

Private practitioners work in busy, challenging environments and are often isolated from their peers. Dr Caroline Osborne-White discusses the value of a mentor in stimulating reflection and sharing concerns.

Mentoring can be described as a protected relationship that supports learning and experiment­ation, and helps individuals develop their potential. 

A mentoring relationship is one where both mentor and mentee recognise the need for personal development. Successful mentoring is based upon trust and confidentiality. 

It gives a doctor the opportunity to reflect on their experiences, both good and bad, and look to what they want for the future. 

It is important to have someone in your professional life who respects, challenges and supports you in your career. This person can also support you in a demanding environment or in becoming an effective leader even as you reach the later stages of your career.

Many medical organisations, including the BMA, support mentoring for doctors, as it can reduce the risk of adverse events and bring problems to the fore at an early stage, reducing the risk of major and escalating difficulties. The GMC also encourages mentoring.

Benefits of a mentor

You may already have a ‘business mentor’ but having a mentor to help with the clinical and ‘soft’ skills can be just as valuable. 

Private practice, especially in small or singled-handed clinics, can mean a restricted approach to problem solving, where the risk of not keeping up to date with the necessary knowledge and skills can be higher. 

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Significant research has been undertaken into the value of mentoring in the UK over the years, including by the Depart­ment of Health and the Doctors Forum. Articles have also been published in medical journals. They conclude that practitioners involved in mentoring report their experiences very positively. 

Mentors can increase their mentee’s confidence, job satisfaction and sense of collegiality, facilitate a renewed focus on aims and objectives, improve working relationships, enhance problem solving and help reduce the risk of complaints. 

Mentoring can provide support and assistance in developing strategies for dealing with specific issues. These issues can vary widely from looking into ideas for small changes to dealing with serious professional and interpersonal relationships. 

Many of the strategies practitioners adopt through discussion with their mentor can be life-changing. These strategies can be used in resolving a major crisis in their professional life, making major changes in ways of thinking and acting or considering significant changes in direction. 

The Doctor’s Forum found that practitioners who had a mentor really valued the time dedicated to them for reflection, with someone they trusted actively listening and challenging their thinking, but not problem solving on their behalf. 

This allowed them to work through their problems in absolute confidence, within the ethical framework accepted by all doctors.

Barriers to mentoring

There are a number of reasons why practitioners may not wish to engage in a mentoring scheme. 

These may include a lack of perceived need, time constraints or a misunderstanding of what is involved. It is also worth remembering that you can seek a different mentor should you wish to.

What could mentoring involve? 

In the UK, mentoring is not a homogenous, standard product; there are considerable variations in how it is perceived and practised. 

There are different mentoring models – most characterised by the flow of help in a single direction.However, co-mentoring is also an option where the emphasis is on mutual support and an open dialogue between two autonomous practitioners.

One of the key ingredients in many mentoring arrangements is the skill of ‘active listening’, a technique that assists those who are speaking, helping them to explore their thoughts and experience at their own pace without interruption and without the listener giving advice.

There are many mentoring programmes across the country offering different types of mentoring schemes. You can contact your royal college or local deanery to find out more. 


Revalidation is a vital part of the profession, and engaging with reflective practice will assist in appraisals and continuing professional development. It can help you to gather evidence of your achievements and lessons learned on an ongoing basis.

Being a mentor 

The benefits of having a mentor are well recognised; however, there is much value to be gained from mentoring someone else. 

Taking on the role of a mentor is personally satisfying as you are contributing to the development of a fellow doctor, while refining your existing skill set. 

It can be used as an opportunity to review and validate what you know and what you have accomplished. Teaching another doctor helps you to remember all that you have learned – and have the satisfaction of being able to pass it on.

You may even learn from your mentee. Often your mentee will be younger than you and they may have knowledge you do not have or look at a task in a different way. They can help you to enhance your people-development skills and you may even learn more about yourself. 

Going forward 

The evidence is clear that all practitioners can benefit from mentoring, whether in the capacity of a mentee or a mentor. 

Practitioners often act as mentors to less experienced colleagues during times of transition, but mentorship should extend further than this and be incorporated at all stages of a medical career.