Mentoring: VIP series

Many prominent people have benefited from having mentors. Freddie Laker mentored Sir Richard Branson in commerce, and Martin Scorsese mentored Oliver Stone in film direction, to name two. Mentors focus on a mentee’s achievements and areas for growth through a one-on-one relationship that is non-threatening and non-judgemental.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) defines a mentor as “a nurse, midwife or specialist community public health nurse who facilitates learning and supervises and assesses students in a practice setting”. A good mentor creates a working relationship, chooses the right environment, structure and medium to engage learning and growth, guides and coaches while assessing learning, and applies the context of practice (evidence-based) and leadership. A good mentee desires learning and assists the mentor in reaching set goals.


Mentoring is a relationship of life-long learning for both, which may last beyond the mentorship. The mentee learns and develops in their field. The knowledge they gain can then be passed on by becoming a mentor to others. Mentees benefit from the mentors’ knowledge and experience, and get the chance to advance more rapidly and become more successful than they would have been without this insight and advice.

The benefits to mentors include:

  • personal re-energisation

  • increased commitment to their career and organisation

  • learning more by talking about and teaching things

  • expanding their impact in their organisation

  • enhancement of their self-esteem

  • an increase in their skills and confidence the opportunity to leave a legacy and encourage others to do the same.

A study by the University of South Florida in 2005 examined the relationship between four career success variables (salary, promotions, subjective career success, and job satisfaction) with experience as an informal mentor at a healthcare organisation. Results indicated that mentors reported greater salary, greater promotion rates and stronger subjective career success than non-mentors.

Clinard and Ariav (1998) suggest that mentors benefit by applying cognitive coaching skills with their students, such as listening, asking inquisitive questions, providing non-judgemental feedback and by reassessing their classroom management.


What are the challenges? Time is probably one of the biggest ensuring the correct environment is in place and helping with practice settings are others. You need to observe, not just communicate by telephone. Constant contact is vital.

Many mentors’ biggest complaint was receiving work at the last minute, while mentees said some mentors delayed in getting assessed work back to them. It is a partnership, and both parties need to agree a framework at the outset.

Students on NMC-approved specialist community public health nursing programmes must be supported and assessed by practice teachers from September 2007, and had to reach ‘1172″>’criteria set by the NMC by September 2008. They had to make the final assessment of practice and confirm to the NMC that the required proficiencies for students’ entry to the register had been achieved. This gives greater accountability to mentors and practice teachers for competency of students on nursing courses.

It is already difficult outside the NHS to find suitable mentors with the time for a mentee, and private sector OH service providers and self-employed consultants willing to allow time off for mentorship training that they may have to fund themselves.

The NMC standard again seems focused on the NHS model with peer support, and not on the realities of the private sector. Practice teacher training over the academic course year is being offered by universities such as Brunel and South Bank. Practice teachers need to retain and map evidence to show they meet the standards if they do not attend training.

Some courses follow community nursing competencies, which do not reflect the working population context. These need to be customised to the OH field.

Business programmes

Besides professional mentors, there are many business mentoring programmes. You may be able find a business mentor in your organisation. Some companies pair high-potential employees with more experienced people and put them in jobs that provide experience in various areas.

Mary Teresa Rainey, founder of advice website Horsesmouth, says it can be difficult for small businesses to network with their peers, so mentorship becomes vital. “Running a small business can be incredibly rewarding, but it can sometimes feel a little lonely, as small businesses don’t have the same support networks that larger organisations would naturally provide,” she says.

Sound familiar? Most OH nurses work alone or in small organisations. Groups and networks such as local OH groups, the Association of Occupational Health Nurse Practitioners and the Royal College of Nursing OH Forums can provide professional mentorship.

Practice placements can benefit us all. In our own work settings, we should be passing on skills by mentoring non-health professionals in OH management. What are you waiting for?

The Visible-Informed-Positive (VIP) series is written by Christina Butterworth, Jo Henderson and Caroline Minshell.


1 NMC 2006. ’98
”>’Standards to support learning and assessment in practice

2 RCN 2005. Guidance for mentors of student nurses and midwives

3 ‘68604
”>’Eikenberry Kevin. Nine Reasons Why Mentoring Matters to You

4 Allen, TD Lentz, E Day, R. A Comparison of Mentors and Non Mentors. Career Success Outcomes Associated With Mentoring Others. University of South Florida

5 Clinard, LM & Ariav, T. (1998). What mentoring does for mentors: A cross-cultural perspective. European Journal of Teacher Education, 21(1), 91-108

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