Advertisement: Sarah Melzack, Membership Benefits Officer at AOP
How was the AOP mentoring program received?
The reception was great. We have a large number of mentors who have signed up and over two thirds of the mentees who are on the platform have partnered with someone and are currently in active ones because of the skills and expertise they are seeking support with Relationships.
The platform has only been up and running since September, but we’ve already had some close relationships and the feedback has been very positive from both sides. Mentors genuinely enjoy interacting with younger, less experienced optometrists and have the comfort factor of helping someone who is walking in the shoes they once had.
It is a fantastic opportunity for mentees to select someone who has experience in the area in which they wish to develop. It’s quite an unusual opportunity.
How many mentors are currently enrolled in the program and what is their experience?
We have almost 100 mentors. The great thing is that more than half of our mentors have 20 years of practical experience or more. In general, more than two thirds of the mentors have more than 11 years of experience. We have a great balance of mentors working in corporate and independent roles which is good for people who may be looking for career connections in different fields or want to learn more about life in this type of practice. 20% of our mentors are local optometrists and 15% are optometrists working in hospitals or universities.
What led to the decision to expand the program to local members?
While locums work regularly in some practices, there are many locums that are one-person bands. They don’t have that stable sense of teamwork or oversight. Even if they do, they may not necessarily want to address the challenges they face with someone hiring them for fear they might interpret them as weaknesses that don’t necessarily exist. Mentoring can give the proxy the space to have these conversations outside of day-to-day relationships and still have someone in their corner on a regular basis.
If everything else in a proxy’s day-to-day life can be segmented, a mentor can piece it all together – by understanding where the proxy has been and what they’re up to. If an optometrist is new to localization, it can also be nice to talk to someone who has been doing it for a while. There are a number of pitfalls people can fall into in this area of self-employment. It might be useful to have someone to talk to to help identify and avoid these pitfalls while sharing some tips and tricks along the way.
What can a mentoring relationship offer an early career optometrist?
Mentoring can provide security. Being new can mean you feel unsteady on your feet, and having someone with over 20 years of experience is a great source of reassurance. Most importantly, mentors can offer confidentiality if someone is struggling. When it comes to confidence or clinical management, mentees may not necessarily want to admit it to the people they work with or who they hope will hire them for future employment or promotion. It is very special to be able to talk to someone who has the same experience but is not part of this employer circle.
Are there common areas of support that mentees seek?
Confidence building is a common topic that mentees want to cover. We initially opened the program to newly qualified opticians and preregs. For people in their early careers, building trust can be crucial, not only in terms of providing a good service to patients, but also in terms of professional fulfillment. You don’t want to go into practice every day feeling scared of doing something wrong and repeating everything in your head and wondering, “What if?”. It will help to have a source of support early on. Confidence also encompasses decision making and clinical management, many of which come with experience. Mentees can overcome these challenges by speaking to someone with much more experience for advice and creating their own development program in these areas.
I suspect the pandemic has contributed to the areas mentees are seeking support for. Students, newly qualified optometrists, and pre-registration optometrists do not all have the hands-on experience they were desperately hoping for. Many local optometrists who have been unable to work during the pandemic have suffered a loss of confidence as they have not been working with patients on a daily basis.
Likewise, anyone who hasn’t worked as much as they used to during the pandemic may come back and find that technology has advanced or regulations have changed. They may find they need to catch up, and then mentoring can help them get through it faster.
What could a mentoring relationship look like alongside internships, studies or work? What level of commitment is required from mentees on a regular basis?
It is entirely up to the mentee and very flexible. The mentoring relationship lasts as long as the mentees wish (although we recommend six months) and until they have achieved the goals or mastered the particular challenge they wanted to work on. It can work around the mentee’s schedule.
Will there be more to see from the mentoring program?
There will be more expansion. We want to give as many people as possible access to this type of support. We’ll reflect on who else might be feeling vulnerable or lacking in confidence at work – especially as this seems to be a key factor that people look for in the mentoring space. For example, career changers who are on parental leave or who have had to give up their job in the meantime and who might need some security when returning to work on a regular basis.
Do you have an important message for members regarding access to the mentoring program?
Just do it. It’s free, quick and easy to access, and so flexible. A mentoring relationship will not be overly demanding. The mentee chooses who to match, when to see them, and what to talk about. The mentor is ready to be there for you 100%.