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Blog: The long road to mentorship

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After some extensive research, Liz Darlison is ready to settle in with her mentor

During the 1st module of the Cancer Leadership Programme Cheryl Richardson gave a presentation around the theory and practice of mentorship. Each course member is asked to identify a suitable mentor, with help available for those struggling to find one. Also we were each asked to find an article about mentoring and upload a summary onto the online learning environment that we all have access to (SCaNaR). This would add breadth to our reading and understanding of mentorship and the various examples available.

I also searched the NHS Dialog Data Star - the search tool available through hospital library sites. The search found thousands of articles. Most were discussing the value of mentoring student nurses throughout their training, or newly-appointed nurses within the hospital setting.

The article I settled on recommending is by Catherine Tracey and Honor Nichol (Mentoring and networking, Nursing Management 2006, Volume 12 number 10). The authors consider the value to nursing leadership of mentorship and networking, and go on to outline formal and informal mentoring.

'Formal' tends to be an organisational program of planned mentorship and the latter, 'informal' a more spontaneous relationship preferred by both mentors and the people they mentor.

The article describes four phases of mentorship, the initiation of the relationship, cultivation, separation and redefinition, and suggests the relationship usually lasts three to ten years! The value of mixed-gender mentor relationships is discussed, as well as causes of dysfunction in a mentor relationship.

A study by Dreher and Ash is also cited, which discovered that male and female executives were more successful if they had experienced a mentor relationship. The role of mentors in Florence Nightingale’s life is acknowledged.

Finally the benefit of networking at later stages in individuals' careers is discussed. Two types of network are described; organisational membership networks and core discussion networks - the latter being more personal to the individual members.

The article concludes that protecting and transferring knowledge is a major challenge for nurses, as well as providing inspiration and direction. Mentorship and networking are fundamental to preparing tomorrows nurses.

I also looked at a few text books. OI recommend is Nurses Taking the Lead - personal qualities of an effective leader. It is written by Fay L Bower, published by W.B.Saunders Company, 2000, chapter 11 - Mentoring Others page 255-273. The chapter describes an easy model for a mentoring process. Whilst aimed at the mentor it is a useful tool for anyone involved in a mentoring relationship giving a simple easy structure to follow if you are unsure about the process you should be following. Three stages are described; the selection phase, goal setting phase and the working phase. The latter is the main stage and as such is sub divided further. The chapter finishes with some case studies and concludes with a summary about how satisfying the whole mentoring experience can be.

I considered my options and decided I wanted to find someone who would be sympathetic toward my busy schedule, keen to I gain as much as possible from the leadership course, have a clinical focus themselves and be able to influence the wider health or nursing agenda.

After much thought, and after a brief conversation of approval with Sara Lister, I approached Gillian Knowles, Cancer Nurse Consultant at the Edinburgh Cancer Centre.

Gillian and I plan to meet for the first time on July 9th. We have already discussed our expectations for our mentorship liaison and have very similar ideas. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Module 2 is next week. It is being held in Peebles, Scotland and from the program it looks like it will be a busy few days. About 10 of my colleagues, my boss, peers and subordinates, have completed an Leadership Effectiveness Analysis (LEA) questionnaire about me. This has now been analysed and I will receive my personal feedback next week. Wish me luck!

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