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Mentoring is often prescribed as a useful tool for women working towards leadership roles in medicine as it supports professional development, helps in goal-setting, networking and confidence building.
At the BMA’s first Women in Academic Medicine conference in London last week, illustrious female medical academics such as Clinical Medicine co-author Parveen Kumar and BMA president Baroness Ilora Finlay both referred to their own mentors when talking about their own success.
‘Now I am in my dotage,’ said the internationally renowned Professor Kumar to a ripple of laughter. ‘I have a mentor and I go in and discuss what to do.’
Meanwhile, Baroness Finlay praised Nigel Stott, a former professor of general practice at Cardiff, who she said had been an ‘amazing’ mentor to her throughout a major chunk of her career.
‘I knew I could phone him about [my] difficulties, he would never break confidence and would give me an honest opinion.'
It is perhaps no surprise then that the first session of the day was a 45-minute ‘speed mentoring’ exercise in which participants were asked to consult the mentors on the subject of their ‘biggest professional challenge’.
In two concentric circles of chairs sat a selection of volunteer mentors (on the inside) and curious participants (on the outside).
Those shopping for mentors spent three minutes in the company of each possible mentor, outlining their challenges and hearing some thoughts before being moved on to the next person.
London consultant psychiatrist Amy Iversen, who was leading proceedings, said the purpose of the session was to give participants the opportunity to speak to a wide variety of mentors and rapidly build their networks.
She said good chemistry was important for a successful mentoring relationship to develop.
The women involved spoke highly of the exercise after they had taken part. One said she had been initially nervous of the task, but had found it exhilarating and ‘very helpful’.
Another said it was a great way of getting introduced to a number of useful contacts.
At various other points during the day, I heard women talking in positive terms about the need for mentoring relationships.
Because there are so few women in leadership roles in medicine, perhaps NHS trusts, universities and other employers should take some tips from the sort of enthusiasm generated by this simple exercise.
Helping facilitate a mentoring relationship, or setting up a scheme that helps people to access others in similar fields, but who are not going to be conflicted in any way, would clearly benefit the wider workforce making it more diverse and more efficient.
Stephanie Jones-Berry is a senior writer for the BMA
Find out more about the BMA’s own mentoring scheme here
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