Advice and development

When your mentor is the problem

What do you do when your working relationship with your mentor becomes strained or breaks down? After taking an honest look at your own expectations and behaviour, seek support and document concerns, says Mandy Day-Calder.
mentor

What do you do when your working relationship with your mentor becomes strained or breaks down? After taking an honest look at your own expectations and behaviour, seek support and document concerns, says Mandy Day-Calder

Just as it is important to manage the expectations you put on yourself, it is also worth reflecting on what you expect of your clinical mentor on a placement. Are you being realistic and have you adapted your expectations as you take on more responsibilities throughout your course?

Interestingly, common definitions of a mentor such as guide, supporter, friend or adviser (Gopee, 2008) differ considerably from the NMCs : a mentor is a person who facilitates

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What do you do when your working relationship with your mentor becomes strained or breaks down? After taking an honest look at your own expectations and behaviour, seek support and document concerns, says Mandy Day-Calder

mentor
The relationship with a mentor should be based on mutual respect
and clear professional boundaries. Picture: iStock

Just as it is important to manage the expectations you put on yourself, it is also worth reflecting on what you expect of your clinical mentor on a placement. Are you being realistic and have you adapted your expectations as you take on more responsibilities throughout your course?

Interestingly, common definitions of a mentor such as guide, supporter, friend or adviser (Gopee, 2008) differ considerably from the NMC’s: a ‘mentor is a person who facilitates learning, and supervises and assesses students in a practice setting’.

The mentor’s role is not one of friendship.

Yes, it helps if you can develop a good rapport, but the relationship you have with your mentor should be based on mutual respect, maintain clear professional boundaries, and have room for honest feedback and discussion about your progress.

As in any relationship, you are only responsible for your own behaviour. So it’s always worth reflecting on your input in any given situation as this can highlight anything you need to change in future. How your mentor behaves is ultimately outside your control – but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to handle.

Practical tips

Practice placements are stressful enough, without challenging dynamics on the ward. Sometimes, despite trying your best to maintain effective communication and ensuring your expectations are realistic, your relationship with your mentor may still break down. If it does, try to follow these tips:

  • Seek support: fortunately, as a student you don’t have to deal with these issues on your own. Contact your university as early as you can. If appropriate, your link lecturer can come and meet you and your mentor to mediate and move forward. If you are a member of a union you should be able to get practical and emotional support from them.
  • Document concerns: keep a note of any instances where you think you are being treated unfairly. Remember to be as objective as you can. Though you may be feeling anxious and upset, only write down facts.  
  • Avoid gossiping: it is easy to feel lonely in an established team, especially if you are the only student on the ward. But two wrongs don’t make a right, so even though you may desperately want to fit in, it’s important to maintain your standards – in the care you give patients as well as how you treat staff. Don’t resort to trying to get other colleagues to take your side.
  • Look after yourself: stress can play havoc on your body and it can be tempting to seek comfort in sugary foods, alcohol or drugs. But all these will do is give you a temporary break from how you are feeling. As difficult as it may seem at the time, try to offer care and compassion to yourself and use the support around you.

Reference

  • Gopee N (2008), Mentoring and Supervision in Health Care, Sage Publications, London

Mandy Day-Calder is a freelance writer and life/health coach

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