GP Training - Mentoring to help achieve goals

Mentoring is a tool for reflection rather than a time for advice or counselling, explains Dr Linda Miller.

The mentoring process depends on mutal respect and rapport in order to be successful
The mentoring process depends on mutal respect and rapport in order to be successful

Broadly speaking, mentoring is an opportunity for an individual to reflect on an issue and consider their options for action.

The mentee sets the agenda for the mentoring session at the beginning. The role of the mentor is to ask helpful reflective questions, which encourage the mentee to be at their most resourceful in generating ideas and solutions.

A mentor does not offer suggestions, solutions or counselling, but helps the mentee to clarify in their own mind what the issue is and enables them to set a goal. When the goal is not clear, a mentor can use various tools to help clarify the goal. Mentoring is helpful for personal and professional development.

Skilful questioning
Skilful questioning can help a mentee identify self-limiting beliefs and challenge them. This can then lead to a wider range of solutions being generated.

The mentee is encouraged to identify criteria against which their options for action can be evaluated to ultimately identify the action they will take. A skilled mentor encourages the mentee to identify when they will take action to achieve the goal, as a specific timetable is more likely to be acted on than a vague notion of when it will be achieved.

Who can mentor?
The terms coaching and mentoring are often used interchangeably, however it is important to understand the difference.

The mentor does not have to have experience of the mentee's career. In fact, a mentor may be more helpful if they do not understand the minutiae of a mentee's specialty, and do not have their own preconceptions and assumptions.

A GP can be mentored by a surgeon and vice versa. The mentoring process is about supporting an individual in determining how best to achieve their goal, not telling them how to perform. A mentor does not need to be older or more experienced than their mentee. The relationship is one of equals, indeed some organisations utilise 'reverse' mentoring where more junior people mentor more senior ones.

Local postgraduate tutors, GP tutors and vocational training course organisers may know about local mentoring schemes.

When is mentoring helpful?
The issues that doctors choose to discuss during mentoring sessions are often related to work-life balance and career decisions.

For GP registrars they might include topics such as how best to prepare for an imminent job interview or whether to move to a different geographical area, choose a special interest or work part-time, salaried or locum. They might have questions such as 'How can I have a better work-life balance'.

Often such questions have major implications but are rushed because opportunities arise. Mentoring can help individuals to make plans about their futures having really taken time to weigh up all their options and visualise their ideal outcome. GPs are fortunate in having a wealth of opportunities in terms of flexible working but sometimes choice can be bewildering.

There is increasing competition for jobs for newly qualified GPs and taking time to evaluate options can be very helpful. GPs may identify numerous resources they can use to develop their careers, which they had not considered before mentoring.

GPs who are making mid- career decisions or coming up to retirement may also find mentoring helpful.

The contract
The mentoring process depends on mutual respect and rapport. Some schemes have a matching process to pair mentors and mentees.

Preliminary discussion should ensure both parties understand the process, time commitment and agree a mutually acceptable venue. The mentee is assured of confidentiality and feedback is given to the mentor after the session. Some mentors send mentees preparatory exercises to do before the first session.

Mentoring in the NHS
The positive impact of mentoring is widely recognised in the business world and increasingly in the NHS.

A recent meeting of those involved in mentoring in the NHS attracted people from all over the UK from various sectors (the ambulance service, PCTs, hospital occupational health and human resource departments, and the National Blood Service).

Services are at varying stages of development: the north west has an established interprofessional mentoring network covering a large area with 300 mentors, while the London Deanery doctors' mentoring scheme has only developed over the last year.

Those who have been mentored are very enthusiastic about the benefits. Mentors find it very rewarding because, unlike appraisal or performance-related supervision work, mentees have chosen to request mentoring rather than had it imposed on them. Many genuinely appreciate the insight that they gain from the process and its role in their personal development.

  • Dr Miller is a freelance GP, mentor for the London deanery and medical student tutor at Imperial College, London.

Learning Points

1. Mentors do not need to be senior or from the same specialty.

2. The relationship should be one of equals as the process depends on mutual respect and rapport.

3. Mentoring can help an individual to address a specific career-related question.

4. Mentoring is becoming commonly used throughout various NHS sectors.


  • Rogers J. Coaching skills A handbook. Open University Press. 2004
  • Garvey B, Stokes P, Megginson D. Coaching and mentoring. Theory and Practice. London, Sage, 2008
  • K Abbasi. Mentoring and the meaning of the soul. J R.Soc Med 2008: 101; 523.

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