According to Kerry & Mayes (1995) there are three distinct models of mentoring. Taken individually they are described as “partial and inadequate”. The apprenticeship model fits the ambulance workplace well because of the importance of experiential learning in ambulance work. It is argued that some skills are best learned by “supervised practice under guidance” Mentees work alongside their mentors and learn directly from them. In the Competency model the mentor takes on the role of a systematic trainer, often with a pre-defined schedule.
This is more rigid and the mentor coaches against a list of agreed behaviours. This has the advantage of being tangible and explicit and demands commitment from the mentee to take responsibility of their learning process. The competency model is not as relevant operationally because by its nature ambulance work is not pre-defined. Competency based approaches to learning are used in (basic) training school but are not as valid “in the field” where less systematic learning takes place.
The reflective approach. Reflective practice is introduced as a critical element in the learning process. In order to create deeper insight the mentor shifts from being a model and instructor to being a “co-enquirer” ( Kerry & Mayes 1995) As previously mentioned these three models all have a part to play in effective mentorship. I feel that the apprenticeship and reflective approaches apply best to my workplace. So is there recognisable mentorship going on in my workplace?
Using the elements discussed earlier it becomes clear that there is no formal or structured mentorship, but that is not to say that none takes place. In reality mentorship is a constant feature of training but takes place with very little deliberate structure and with no formal support from the employers. As a teacher of ambulance staff I can find myself leading a crew of two basic training graduates on a training vehicle, or work with a qualified but inexperienced (trainee) crewmate..
In both of these roles I work in the operational setting, on an ambulance answering urgent and emergency calls, working a combination of day and night shifts. In the operational setting I often find myself with an inexperienced crewmate who is keen to assume the mentee role and use me as a role model or mentor. I can encourage them by example, when taking the lead (apprenticeship) or allow them to get on with the job, if safe, and debrief later using a reflective approach. Initially, especially where confidence is low I take on the former role.
Allowing myself to take a more low key approach as time passes, sharing in the reflective process where appropriate. Maybe this relationship could better be described as preceptorship. “an individual teaching/learning method in which each student is assigned to a particular preceptor so that he/she can experience day to day practice with a role model and resource person immediately available within the clinical setting. ” (Chickerella & Lutz 1981) Usually I work with the same crewmate for two or three months at a time.
This period effectively becomes our “defined” schedule, the short term approach. Longer term I may or may not work with them again for an extended period. If staffing a training vehicle my two trainees are with me for a period of three weeks. After that I am keen to encourage further informal contact by either party but is not mandatory or contracted. Thus it can be seen that ambulance “mentorship” does not exist in a normally recognised form. That which does take place is both unstructured and unsupported and not officially recognised.
But I do believe that mentoring takes place, albeit in an unstructured, unintentional way and that it lends itself to the apprenticeship and reflective models. Almost all of the mentoring that occurs in the way I describe does so within the dynamic of the crew of two. Although staff may approach me in other ways there is no method of facilitating their desire for a mentored relationship other than entirely informally as an unrecognised “friendly” arrangement. Shift times and location of staff countywide make regular contact very difficult.
Working alongside my “mentee” as a crew means that boundaries become much more of an issue than in other, formalised mentoring situations. “Like any close involvement, the relationship between the mentor and proti?? gi?? has the potential to become emotionally charged”( Murray & Owen 1991) . On operational duties crews routinely spend twelve hours together and witness a variety of emotive situations that can force them together. Where there is a burgeoning mentor/mentee relationship it becomes incumbent on the mentor to carefully consider the limits.
Mentor qualities such as trustworthiness, credibility, commitment, discipline, patience, communication skills etc, all become tested in an intense atmosphere of long day and night shifts in sometimes difficult circumstances. Anna Guest suggests that, “Companies have a duty to provide mentors and mentees with a clear framework for the relationship” (Coaching & Mentoring Network 2001) Clearly this is not presently happening in my workplace. But would the situation improve if a structured scheme were put in place? I would like now to look at the potential advantages and disadvantages of a structured mentorship model in my workplace.