Therapists and exercise professionals generally learn in several ways. Initially, they will have taken a course at a college or University to gain both theoretical and practical knowledge. After qualifying they are required to keep their knowledge fresh and will regularly attend courses – a system called continuous professional development (CPD). In addition to this they will continue their own studies by reading scientific journals and books. Finally, they learn by sharing experiences with other practitioners and learning from their own experience by looking at how successful treatments were (self-reflection and patient audit).
However, whilst learning at university should be well organised, post-graduate training and experience can sometimes be more haphazard. There is an old saying ‘better the clinician with 10 years’ experience than the one with 1 years’ experience 10 times’. In other words, without guidance you may simply repeat your mistakes, not progressing your career but instead remaining stuck in a rut of poor results.
This is where mentoring comes in. Mentoring is a one-to-one relationship between the student (mentee) and teacher (mentor), and straight away this is quite different to a class or group situation where you can be simply one face amongst many. Generally mentoring continues for a set period of time with guidance and support. The aim is to enable the mentee to gain skills, confidence and knowledge is a secure non-judgemental environment; It is really about taking someone along a road which the mentor has walked themselves, avoiding pitfalls and errors which they may have come across. It is a two-way relationship, a partnership in learning with pre-agreed aims.
The job of a mentor is more than just encouraging the mentee and imparting knowledge. The aim is to challenge the mentee by asking questions (and being a good listener) to draw out their thoughts and ideas and to provide a different perspective – it is often said that a mentor pulls rather than pushes. Key skills of a mentor are listening, questioning, summarising, guiding, giving feedback, and helping the mentee to problem solve.
How it works
Generally, you first explore with your mentor what you want out of the relationship and they get to understand where you are now professionally, and where you want to be. If you both gel (the mentor excepts the mentorship, and you get on well with them) you will agree a structure to the programme. For example, you may agree to a regular monthly meeting over Zoom. You both agree to set aims, such as completing a task within a timeframe which might be following up on a discussion, reading around a subject, watching a clinical technique via video link for example. This will often stimulate discussion and further ideas and your mentor acts as a sounding board for these. A mentor will often use examples for their own personal experience to illustrate a way forward, or highlight mistakes to avoid.
If you live close to your mentor there may even be an opportunity to meet, but if not smartphones, tablets, and computers provide a good way to interact and are surprisingly successful. Above all, mentoring gives you the reassurance that you ‘have someone in your corner’.
Dr Christopher Norris is a clinical mentor for a group called ‘get better online’. Take a look at the mentoring page Clinical mentoring – Get Better Online or contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org