Coaching and mentoring in healthcare

By Jan Murray
Coaching and mentoring is integral to knowledge and career development in healthcare

Last updated

Like me, I'm sure you've often found that doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals project a certain air of control and confidence.

That makes you feel like you're in good hands, doesn't it?

This ability is something that is not learnt from books.

Healthcare workers gain much of their knowledge and experience from interaction with other healthcare professionals who have mentored them throughout their time in the profession.

Coaching and mentoring, while often used interchangeably, have distinct roles and purposes in healthcare and in passing on clinical and interpersonal skills.

Understanding the differences and how each contributes to professional development is important if you are to apply them properly in a healthcare environment.

Table of contents
Mentoring in Healthcare
Healthcare Mentoring Case Study
Coaching in Healthcare
An Overview of Mentoring in Healthcare
Mentoring Models Used in Healthcare
Peer mentoring in healthcare
How Does Reverse Mentoring in Healthcare Work?
Healthcare Mentorship Programs
Is a Healthcare Mentoring Program Right For Your Organisation?

Mentoring in Healthcare

Mentoring is crucial for long-term career and personal development in healthcare. This works both ways, as healthcare professionals will find themselves learning from more experienced staff and in turn passing that knowledge to their more junior colleagues as they supervise them.

A healthcare mentor and mentee helping with career and personal development in healthcare

Mentoring helps healthcare professionals navigate the complexities of the medical field, understand the culture of healthcare organisations, and develop a sense of professional identity. Mentoring provides:

  1. Long-Term Relationships: Mentoring typically involves a longer-term relationship focused on the overall development and career progression of the mentee.

  2. A Broad Scope: It covers a wide range of topics – from clinical skills and professional conduct to career advice and personal development.

  3. Experience Sharing: Mentors usually share their own experiences and provide guidance based on their journey in the healthcare field.

  4. Career and Personal Development: The mentor helps the mentee navigate their career path, offering advice on various professional decisions and life balance.

  5. Role Models: Mentors often serve as role models, inspiring mentees through their career achievements and personal qualities.

Case study: Barts Health NHS Trust - Health Care Horizons

The Healthcare Horizons programme, supported by Sadiq Khan, aims to introduce East London's youth to NHS careers through direct engagement with 37 secondary schools, offering career events, mentoring, work experiences, and pre-employment training. Focused on local recruitment, it seeks to boost career aspirations, promote Barts Health as an employer, and enhance career guidance, opening up healthcare career opportunities for young Londoners.
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PLD's mentoring solution:

Tailored to meet the specific needs of Healthcare Horizons, PLD provided a user-friendly platform for busy healthcare professionals and 6th form college students. Working closely with the Healthcare Horizons team, PLD customised a user journey that facilitates easy access and engagement for both mentors and mentees, delivering vital career support to aspiring healthcare students.

"The platform has helped us mentor young people from local schools who are considering a career within the health sector..."

"I really like the fact that we were able to develop a bespoke platform that meets the project needs... The platform is very user-friendly and the reporting functionality is also helpful. Great product."

Barts Health NHS Trust - Health Care Horizons


75% of registered mentees in the programme have successfully matched with mentors for career advice in their healthcare interest areas, including UCAS application, university interviews, personal statement guidance, and insights into the healthcare sector. Feedback highlights the programme's effectiveness in empowering diverse young people towards healthcare careers.

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Coaching in Healthcare

Coaching in healthcare is used more for addressing immediate challenges, improving specific competencies, and achieving short-term goals.

Coaching taking place in a clinical environment - coaching for immediate challenges and improving specific skills

It's particularly useful for enhancing clinical skills, leadership abilities, and dealing with specific workplace challenges. Coaching tends to be:

  1. Short-Term and Focused: Coaching is generally more short-term and focuses on specific development areas or issues. It's more about enabling the individual to discover answers by themselves.

  2. Skill and Performance Oriented: Coaches work on developing specific skills or behaviours. It's often about improving performance and achieving set goals.

  3. A Structured Approach: Coaching involves a more structured approach with regular sessions and clear objectives.

  4. Questioning and Feedback: Coaches use techniques like active listening, questioning, and feedback to facilitate self-awareness and self-directed learning.

  5. Not Necessarily Provided by Healthcare Experts: Coaches don't necessarily have to be from the healthcare sector. Their expertise is in the coaching process itself.

"The platform is very user-friendly for both end users and administrators and has many features and useful reporting dashboards. This allows the organisation to report on the uptake, usage and satisfaction with programmes via evaluation surveys..."

...It is just great that the platform can be fully-customised upon the organisation's needs - this is both in terms of the set up and visual appearance. It allows for a variety of programmes such as mentoring, coaching and reverse mentoring also."

East London NHS Foundation Trust - Organisation Development Business Partner

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An Overview of Mentoring in Healthcare

Mentoring in healthcare refers to a supportive relationship where a more experienced healthcare professional, known as the mentor, provides guidance, knowledge, and support to a less experienced colleague, often referred to as the mentee.

Key aspects of mentoring in healthcare include:

  1. Knowledge Sharing: The mentor shares their clinical expertise and professional experiences, helping the mentee navigate through various challenges in healthcare settings.

  2. Skill Development: Mentors often assist mentees in developing specific clinical skills, decision-making abilities, and other competencies crucial for effective healthcare delivery.

  3. Career Guidance: Mentors provide advice on career development, such as choosing specialisations, advancing in one's career, and balancing professional and personal life.

  4. Emotional Support: Healthcare can be emotionally taxing. Mentors offer support and guidance on coping with the stresses and emotional aspects of the profession.

  5. Networking: Mentors introduce mentees to professional networks, which can lead to opportunities for collaboration and professional growth.

  6. Professional Socialisation: Through mentoring, new healthcare professionals learn about the norms, values, and culture of the healthcare sector.

Mentoring in healthcare not only benefits the individuals involved but also contributes to the overall improvement of healthcare services, as it fosters a culture of continuous learning, collaboration, and professional excellence.

"We could not have asked for a better service from PLD. They were very responsive to our specific platform needs and available to talk to for help and support when needed. Regular check ins from them were also very useful and they have helped to make sure our mentoring platform is successful. After the implementation, regular contact has been maintained, which has led to further refinements and tweaks to improve user experience even further."

Royal College of Midwives mentoring scheme

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Mentoring Models Used in Healthcare

Mentoring models in healthcare provide structured frameworks for establishing and nurturing mentoring relationships. These models cater to the diverse needs and contexts within the healthcare sector.

A healthcare mentor providing group mentoring

Here are some commonly used mentoring models in healthcare:

  1. One-to-One Mentoring: This traditional model involves a dyadic relationship between a more experienced mentor and a less experienced mentee. The mentor provides individualised guidance, support, and learning opportunities.

  2. Group Mentoring: In this model, a single mentor or a group of mentors work with multiple mentees. This approach facilitates peer learning and support, allowing mentees to benefit not just from the mentor's experience but also from the diverse perspectives of their peers.

  3. Peer Mentoring: As mentioned earlier, this involves mentoring relationships between individuals at similar career stages or with similar experiences. It's characterised by mutual support and learning, with an emphasis on reciprocity.

  4. Reverse Mentoring: This innovative model flips the traditional mentor-mentee roles, with younger or less experienced professionals mentoring more seasoned colleagues, often in areas like technology, current trends, and new perspectives.

  5. Distance or E-Mentoring: Leveraging technology, this model connects mentors and mentees who are not in the same geographical location. It's particularly useful in healthcare settings where physical proximity may not be feasible due to busy schedules or remote locations.

  6. Cross-Cultural Mentoring: This model focuses on pairing mentors and mentees from different cultural backgrounds. It aims to promote diversity and inclusivity in healthcare settings, providing opportunities for cultural exchange and learning.

  7. Formal vs Informal Mentoring: Formal mentoring involves structured, often institutionally supported programs with specific goals, timelines, and objectives. Informal mentoring, on the other hand, arises organically based on personal connections and is more flexible.

  8. Cascade Mentoring: In this model, knowledge and skills are passed down through multiple levels. For example, senior doctors mentor junior doctors, who in turn mentor medical students. This creates a continuous flow of learning and support. Each mentoring model has its unique benefits and challenges, and the choice of model often depends on the specific goals of the mentoring relationship, the availability of resources, and the cultural context of the healthcare organisation. Effective mentoring in healthcare often involves a combination of these models to address the multifaceted needs of healthcare professionals.

Peer mentoring and reverse mentoring are of particular importance in healthcare and therefore deserve a little more detail.

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Peer mentoring in healthcare

Peer mentoring in healthcare, often called peer to peer mentoring, is a form of mentoring where individuals at similar career levels or with comparable experiences support each other's professional and personal development. Unlike traditional mentoring, where there is a clear mentor-mentee hierarchy based on experience or seniority, peer mentoring is more between equals and is reciprocal.

Two healthcare workers, at similar career levels, engaged in peer mentoring

Key aspects of peer mentoring in healthcare include:

  1. Mutual Learning: Both parties in a peer mentoring relationship can share knowledge and learn from each other's experiences, which can be particularly beneficial in a rapidly evolving field like healthcare.

  2. Shared Experiences: Peer mentors often have a better understanding of each other's challenges and situations, as they may be going through similar experiences, stages in their career, or facing similar workplace dynamics.

  3. Support and Empathy: Peer mentoring provides emotional and moral support. Peers can empathise with each other's situations, providing a unique level of understanding and encouragement.

  4. Skill Development: Similar to traditional mentoring, peer mentoring also focuses on developing skills. However, the learning process can be more collaborative, with each peer bringing different strengths to the table.

  5. Networking: Peer mentoring can expand professional networks within and across different healthcare departments or specialisations, promoting inter-professional collaboration.

  6. Feedback and Reflection: Peers can offer constructive feedback based on their own experiences. This reflective practice is essential for continuous professional development in healthcare.

  7. Increased Accessibility: Peer mentoring can be more accessible and less intimidating for some individuals, as it removes the hierarchical barriers often associated with traditional mentoring relationships.

Peer mentoring in healthcare is particularly effective in fostering a culture of collective learning and support, enhancing job satisfaction, and promoting a sense of community among healthcare professionals.

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How Does Reverse Mentoring in Healthcare Work?

Reverse mentoring in the healthcare sector is a unique and increasingly popular approach that flips the traditional mentoring model. In reverse mentoring, junior staff members or those newer to the field mentor more senior or experienced colleagues.

This approach can be particularly effective in healthcare, given the rapid advancements in technology, changing patient demographics, and evolving healthcare practices.

A good example of this is with the Royal College of Midwives mentoring scheme whose programme has also motivated early-career midwives to take on mentoring roles, promoting reverse mentoring and recognizing the valuable insights experienced staff can gain from those with less experience.

Key aspects of how reverse mentoring fits into healthcare include:

  1. Technology and Digital Literacy: Junior healthcare professionals, often more adept with new technologies and digital tools, can mentor their senior colleagues in these areas. This is crucial in healthcare, where technological advancements like electronic health records, telemedicine, and digital health apps are increasingly important.

  2. Fresh Perspectives and Innovation: Younger or less experienced healthcare workers can provide fresh perspectives and innovative ideas, challenging traditional practices and contributing to improved healthcare delivery.

  3. Cultural Competency and Diversity: Reverse mentoring can facilitate better understanding and integration of diverse cultural perspectives. Younger or newer staff members may have more recent training in cultural competency or more direct experience with diverse patient populations.

  4. Breaking Down Hierarchies: This approach can help break down hierarchical barriers in healthcare settings, fostering a more collaborative and inclusive culture.

  5. Professional Development for Mentors: Reverse mentoring offers professional development opportunities to junior staff, enhancing their leadership skills, confidence, and understanding of broader organisational issues.

  6. Keeping Pace with Current Trends: Senior healthcare professionals can stay updated on current trends, attitudes, and practices in healthcare, which are essential for effective leadership and decision-making.

  7. Inter-Generational Understanding: Reverse mentoring promotes inter-generational understanding and collaboration, which is critical in multi-generational healthcare teams.

  8. Organisational Learning and Adaptability: It encourages organisational learning and adaptability, as senior staff gain insights into the needs and expectations of younger colleagues and patients.

Incorporating reverse mentoring into healthcare mentorship programs requires careful planning to ensure that it complements traditional mentoring models and addresses the specific needs of the organisation. It should be positioned as a mutually beneficial arrangement, where both parties have valuable insights to offer and can learn from each other. This approach not only enhances professional development but also contributes to a more dynamic, inclusive, and forward-thinking healthcare environment.

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Healthcare Mentorship Programs

Healthcare mentorship programs are structured initiatives which are designed to nurture and manage mentoring relationships within healthcare organisations.

These programs are vital for supporting and developing healthcare professionals at various stages of their careers.

Effective mentorship programs can lead to improved job satisfaction, enhanced skill development, and better patient care outcomes. Here are key elements and considerations for healthcare mentorship programs:

  1. Clear Objectives and Goals: Define what the program aims to achieve, whether it's improving clinical skills, enhancing leadership capabilities, fostering research and innovation, or supporting career progression.

  2. Program Structure: Decide on the format (one-to-one, group, peer mentoring, etc.), duration, and frequency of mentoring sessions. Ensure it's flexible enough to accommodate the schedules of busy healthcare professionals.

  3. Mentor-Mentee Matching: Implement a process for matching mentors and mentees. This could be based on career interests, specialties, or personal preferences. Consider allowing participants to choose their pairs or providing guidance for optimal matching.

  4. Training for Mentors: Provide training for mentors to ensure they are equipped with the necessary skills, such as effective communication, providing constructive feedback, and setting goals.

  5. Support and Resources: Offer resources and support for both mentors and mentees, including access to training materials, professional development opportunities, and administrative support.

  6. Monitoring and Evaluation: Establish mechanisms to monitor the progress of mentoring relationships and evaluate the program's effectiveness. This could include regular feedback sessions, surveys, and assessment of professional development outcomes.

  7. Cultural Competency: Ensure the program is sensitive to and inclusive of diverse cultural backgrounds and practices, which is particularly important in the diverse healthcare environment.

  8. Confidentiality: Maintain a strict code of confidentiality to ensure that personal or sensitive professional issues discussed during mentoring are protected.

  9. Recognition and Reward: Recognise and reward the contributions of mentors, which can be crucial for their motivation and the overall success of the program.

  10. Continuous Improvement: Regularly review and update the program based on feedback and changing needs within the healthcare field.

  11. Accessibility and Inclusivity: Ensure the program is accessible to all healthcare staff, including those in less visible roles or in remote locations.

Healthcare mentorship programs, when well-implemented, can be transformative, fostering a culture of continuous learning and support that ultimately enhances the quality of healthcare delivery.

Coaching and mentoring work in combination.

Both approaches contribute significantly to the professional growth and effectiveness of healthcare personnel, leading to improved patient care and healthcare outcomes. Often, healthcare professionals benefit from a combination of both mentoring and coaching at different stages of their careers.

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Is a Healthcare Mentoring Program Right For Your Organisation?

That's easy to find out...

There's a free, 3 minute quiz that will help you decide whether a healthcare mentoring program is the right fit for your organisation.

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