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Mentoring in the Northern Region Training Programme

We've developed this for the Northern Region programme. We have a list of consultants - mostly supervisors - and some 5th year trainees, who are prepared to offer mentoring, noting any special interests they might have, so that we can help link up trainees and mentors.  Meanwhile there's some general information below. 

What is mentoring?

Mentoring is a developmental process where more experienced people interact with those less experienced in a helping relationship to assist in their learning and development. This can be between a psychiatrist and a trainee, a senior trainee and a junior trainee, or between a more senior and a more junior consultant.

Mentoring will involve some regular contact between the mentor and mentee (the more junior colleague) and will continue either across their training or over a defined period of time.

Mentoring is a professional but friendly relationship. The mentor and mentee work together collaboratively towards agreed goals and desired outcomes.

How, and how often, should mentors and mentees meet?

Fortnightly to monthly for 1 hour is suggested, at the times in training when the trainee most needs this support.  At other times it could be every few months, to maintain a little contact. The mentoring relationship doesn't need to continue across the whole of training – that's for the mentor and mentee to decide – but it's recommended to continue it across a year, at least.

Meetings will usually be in person, but could also be via Skype, Facetime, videoconferencing, etc., especially for trainees in remote locations.

How is mentoring different from supervision?

Mentoring is not about providing clinical advice and there's no evaluation or performance-management role for a mentor. Instead, it's a semi-formalised supportive relationship, offering guidance and encouragement in order for a more junior colleague to transition successfully through training. It's also very useful for newly qualified consultants who're adjusting to the consultant role.

What are the qualities of a mentor and what’s involved?

Mentors will have a genuine interest in helping and supporting junior colleagues at various stages of training or adjustment to being a consultant. Mentors will need good skills in providing non-clinical advice and guidance, listening, questioning, giving constructive feedback, collaborative problem-solving, encouragement, and negotiation. They need to be able to set clear boundaries for the mentoring relationship.

Times when junior colleagues might especially need this extra guidance and support are:

  • As first years when adjusting to being a trainee
  • When undertaking the major College exams and assessments
  • As senior registrars making the transition to consultant status
  • As junior consultants adjusting to the SMO role.

Examples of things that might be addressed at a mentoring session are:

  • Leadership and direction in helping the junior colleague clarify their progress, their goals and a plan to achieve their goals
  • Suggestions about professional development opportunities
  • Advice about tackling assessments e.g. EPAs, the Written or OSCE exams, the Psychotherapy Case or the Scholarly Project
  • Affirming the junior colleague's strengths and interests, and providing encouragement.

Those seem like things supervisors are already doing, so why do we need mentors?

It's true – all of those are roles that supervisors usually take on with trainees, and in setting a mentoring programme in place, we're not looking to take any of those roles away from the principal rotation supervisors. However the relationship with a mentor is able to continue across different runs and throughout the bulk of training, as an additional way of providing guidance and support – and it's outside the more formal supervisor, Training Facilitator or Director of Training relationships with trainees which all include performance management.

What are the boundary issues with mentoring?

A mentor is not a supervisor and will not be expected to provide clinical advice to a junior colleague. From time to time, a junior colleague might discuss a patient under their care with the mentor to demonstrate something or as an example of a general situation they want to explore how to manage, but any discussion in this context is supportive and educational and is not advice or guidance about the clinical management of the actual patient. Mentoring is of course not psychotherapy, although one role of a mentor might be to encourage a junior colleague to arrange this for themself. The usual boundary issues apply to a mentoring relationship as to a supervisory one, in terms of not subjecting trainees or junior colleagues to bullying, harassment or inappropriate behaviour.

What makes for a successful mentoring relationship?

  • Clear expectations and open and honest communication
  • Mutual trust and respect, and recognition of each other’s strengths
  • Patience and understanding
  • Insight into the developmental stage of each party, in terms of their career as a psychiatrist
  • A reliable commitment by both parties to the mentoring relationship.

What would be a problem in a mentoring relationship?

  • Excessive criticism or too much focus on problems with the junior colleague's performance, without also offering suggestions for improvement and collaborating on solutions
  • If the mentor or the junior colleague were unreliable in attendance at agreed appointments, or were generally hard to access
  • If the mentor were too directive and tried to solve the junior colleague's problems for them
  • If the mentor encouraged or did not manage splitting, so that the junior colleague idealised the mentor and devalued their rotation supervisor. This might sometimes be a risk due to the rotation supervisor's role necessarily including performance management and grading. It requires mentors to be able to recognise such a dynamic and to address it if needed
  • If the junior colleague were quite passive and did not contribute much to goal-setting or to collaborative discussion of ways forward
  • If the mentoring relationship became solely a social relationship and was thus ineffectual and with unclear boundaries.

So how can mentors – and junior colleagues looking for a mentor – connect with each other?

For anyone seeking a mentor, the best way is to contact James Gardiner to ask about it. We would check out what you're looking for in a mentor, and would be able to make suggestions based on who we know is available. You can also ask your local Training Facilitator about finding a mentor, and they would pass the request on to James.

If additional local psychiatrists are interested in becoming mentors, please contact James to ask about this. 

What if a problem cropped up in a mentoring relationship?

Please contact James Gardiner for assistance.

The RANZCP model is that if it turns out that the "fit" isn't working and either party wishes to dissolve the mentor-mentee relationship, this should go ahead with a "no fault" understanding.


Resources – basic information about RANZCP training for mentors
(especially useful if you haven't done local supervisor training, but also as a general refresher). Available here.

Resources – Modules about mentoring from the college website
(created to support the pilot mentoring programmes for rural trainees, in NSW, and in WA)

Three mentoring modules are now available on Learnit, the college's educational site. All three are available here: 
Each module takes approx. 30-45 minutes to complete.

Module 1: Introduction to mentoring
Suitable for any psychiatry Fellow or trainee interested in what mentoring is and how it works.

Module 2: Mentoring for mentees
This explores the role of the mentee in more detail to help prepare junior colleagues for this role.

Module 3: Being an effective mentor
This explores the role of the mentor in more detail to help prepare mentors for this role.