Sunday, February 8, 2009

What is mentoring?

My new job is to implement an eMentoring program for Aged Care Queensland. But before I start planning the project, I think it is really important to tease out exactly what mentoring is, and how it will look in the context of aged and community care.

Definition of mentoring
I think of mentoring as a relationship between mentor and mentee that encourages growth and development in a respectful and collegial environment (Morton-Cooper & Palmer, 2000). The mentoring relationship may be an informal arrangement that happens naturally, or a formal relationship that is organised within the work organisation (Rose, 2005).

Who benefits from mentoring?
A mentoring relationship tends to be long term that can be entered into at any stage of one’s career, although it is seen as particularly useful when newly qualified, returning to practice, changing role or practice context (Northcott, 2000). The elements of mentoring in the health field are essentially the same as in education, business and industry: personal growth, career development, advice, sponsorship; critical reflection and problem-solving (Dancer, 2003)

Different meanings
In the health field there has been a degree of confusion and disagreement about the concept of mentoring and the role of the mentor. This has arisen because of the overlapping of mentoring with the concepts of preceptorship and clinical supervision (Firtko, Stewart & Knox, 2005).

Preceptorship has been defined as an experienced practitioner working with a less experienced person such as a new graduate, as she develops competence and comes to terms with working in the ‘real’ world (Morton-Cooper & Palmer, 2000). A preceptor is chosen to work with a practitioner in the clinical environment for a specified amount of time, and is often organised as part of a formal institutional orientation program. Skills acquisition and socialisation to the clinical setting tends to be the focus of a preceptorship program (Mills et al., 2005).

Clinical supervision
Clinical supervision has a number of definitions ranging from a formal structured process with a supervisor, to a clinical placement when a skilled practitioner works with another practitioner with the main aim of assessing clinical skills.

Difference between preceptorship, mentoring and clinical supervision
Armitage and Burnard (1991) summarise preceptorship as being more clinically focused than mentoring, and concerned with teaching and learning in the clinical environment. The mentoring relationship is closer and more personal, and not necessarily based in the work place.

Despite this analysis, there continues to be intertwining of the mentor, preceptor and supervisor roles. For instance, nursing and midwifery students in the United Kingdom are supervised and assessed by mentors during their undergraduate education programs. However, in New Zealand, mentoring is a supportive and developmental measure for registered midwives, in particular new graduates. And the preceptor role is one that the midwife takes on when she works with midwifery students. Again, in New Zealand, clinical supervision is a process a midwife goes through when her practice is being monitored by the Midwifery Council in a professional misconduct situation. While supervision in the UK is a statutory support and advice process that every midwife undertakes.

Mentoring in aged and community care
The very interesting thing about this project is that there will be such an eclactic mix of people recruited, both in terms of profession and role. We will have non-professionals and registered people, care givers, nurses, allied health staff, managers and educators. Because of the mix of people, I believe it will be up to each mentoring dyad or group to individually define what mentoring means to them.

The project see mentoring as a support process. I do not see the function of mentoring to be about solving clinical issues, but more about reflecting on situations, contemplating actions, attitudes and knowledge, and reflecting on learning that is uncovered by mentoring conversations.

What does mentoring mean to you? What elements of mentoring would you say will be important to the people in this project? How will the fact that communication is carried out via the Internet impact on function of mentoring? In other words, will the definition of eMentoring differ from traditional mentoring?

Armitage, P., & Burnard, P. (1991). Mentors or preceptors? Narrowing the theory practice gap. Nurse Education Today, 11, 225-229.

Dancer, J. (2003). Mentoring in healthcare: theory in search of practice? Clinician in Management, 12 (1), 21-31.

Firtko, A., Stewart, R., & Knox, N. (2005). Understanding mentoring and preceptorship: clarifying the quagmire. Contemporary Nurse , July-August. Retrieved February 8, 2009, from;col1

Mills, J., Francis, K., & Bonner, A. (2005). Mentoring, clinical supervision and preceptoring: clarifying the conceptual definitions for Australian rural nurses. A review of the literature. Retrieved February 7, 2009, from:

Morton-Cooper, A., & Palmer, A. (2000). Mentorship and preceptorship: a guide to support roles in clinical practice. Oxford: Blackwell Science.

Northcott, N. (2000). Mentorship in nursing. Nursing Management, 7 (3), 30-32.

Rose, M. (2005). Mentoring in the health professions, in M. Rose & D. Best (Eds), Transforming practice through clinical education, professional supervision and mentoring. Edinburgh: Elsevier.

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