Aesthetics explores the mentoring process and investigates how to make the most of the unique learning experience
The nature of medical aesthetics means that many practitioners will work alone when they’re starting out. They will attend a reputable training course, learn the essential skills needed to begin treating patients, receive their certification and then be left to start practising alone. For some, this can be a daunting prospect. While they may be well-equipped in using dermal filler for most indications, for example, they could one day receive a request for a treatment area they’re unfamiliar with. Of course, as an ethical practitioner they could refuse treatment or refer to a more experienced practitioner, but what if they wanted to learn how to offer this procedure? The cost and time associated with completing an additional training course may not be appropriate on this occasion, so where can they turn?
For many practitioners, building relationships with more experienced professionals offers a solution. In what is a relatively new specialty, with continuous updates and developments yet limited formal training, clinicians have expanded their skills by sharing their experiences and knowledge of their various fields. This can come through attending annual aesthetic conferences or workshops held by product suppliers, but it can also come from finding an aesthetic mentor – someone to turn to for one-to-one advice, who is willing to share their techniques and best practice methods with the common goal of enhancing the specialty as a whole.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) describes a mentor as, ‘A role model willing to help a student develop clinical competence through support, honesty, appraisal, reflective communication and being a critical friend’.1 Before approaching anyone to become your mentor, aesthetic nurse prescriber and mentor Frances Turner Traill advises that you should always check their credentials. “Always approach with caution as there are a lot of people who claim to be an expert, but have limited evidence to prove that,” she says, recommending, “Ask what their experiences, what qualifications they’ve got, whether they’ve mentored before and what the outcome has been for the practitioners they’ve mentored.”
Business coach and mentor Adrian Wales adds, “It’s good to have a clear understanding of what you’re looking to get out of the relationship before you approach the individual. It’s also important to give some acknowledgement of specifically why you’ve approached that person to give them clarification on how they can help.” For practitioners working within a clinic, Wales suggests approaching your line manager for support in finding an appropriate mentor. This, he says, has benefits for both the manager and the employee, “Having somebody outside of immediate line management that can build a trustful relationship with a person requesting support can be invaluable. They can share their expertise and wisdom, give good advice, but won’t hold them accountable,” adding, “Often, the line manager will have more of an understanding of how other senior members of staff can help.”
Mentoring less experienced aesthetic practitioners can be hugely rewarding, says Wales. He explains, “It’s enormously reaffirming when someone approaches you and says they’d love to spend more time with you to understand how you work. It enables you to look at what you do from the eyes of somebody else – most people don’t really stop and analyse what they do, how they do it and what they know. Working with a mentee can help you look ethically at what you’re doing and make sure it’s understandable to someone else.”
Turner Traill adds, “It gives you a chance to reflect and critically examine your knowledge base, your skills, your attitudes and your competence. It can help map out your own strengths and weaknesses so you can identify where you are and consider where you want to be.”
As a board member of the British Association of Cosmetic Nurses (BACN), Turner Traill has become part of the Aesthetic Nursing Revalidation Mentor Programme, which aims to support nurses through their revalidation process and mentor them appropriately to achieve high standards of competency and safe practice. She explains, “We aim to address gaps in knowledge and experience by going through a detailed process so the mentor and mentee can identify the gaps and work towards a programme where these are filled.”
She explains that there is a stringent application process in which practitioners need to prove that they meet the relevant competencies to become a mentor, “You need to show how many procedures you’ve done, how many complications you’ve managed, what the outcomes were, the clinical pathway used; you’ve got to have a very good audit trail to become an accredited mentor.” While this is one option specifically for BACN members, Wales acknowledges that mentoring doesn’t necessarily need to involve such a formal process. He says, “I think one of the most important things is for the mentor and the mentee to agree ways of working together when they start. You ideally want to have a terms of reference document, which addresses what you both hope to get out of the arrangement and how you will measure its effectiveness.” Turner Traill notes that her early experience of mentorship was very informal but ‘invaluable’ to her development as it enabled her to observe numerous specialist treatments and techniques. She explains, “I worked with a maxillofacial surgeon who I would go and watch in theatre whenever I could.”
As Wales mentioned previously, discussing the goals of both the mentee and mentor is imperative to a successful relationship. “As m uch that can be agreed upfront the better,” he says, noting, that some people will have very specific ideas in mind in terms of time frames and work processes, while others may be very relaxed and happy to adapt to each situation as it comes. “I’ve known mentors and mentees who’ve worked together for more than three years – they may not see much of each other but they know that there’s somebody there at the end of the phone or to spend time with when necessary,” he says. Turner Traill agrees, explaining, “Mentoring can be an ongoing process because learning should be ongoing. Practicalities can change; for example, you may agree to mentor someone for two full days in clinic but you identify, as you go on, that their goals aren’t quite being met.
As the mentee is critically evaluating their performance as well, they will often agree that perhaps they need longer.” The biggest obstacle of mentoring is time, says Turner Traill, with Wales agreeing that finding diary space can be hard. However, they note that with careful planning, this can of course be overcome. Wales also highlights the importance managing a mentee’s expectations, “You could spend three months with Richard Branson, but that doesn’t mean that after three months you’re going to come away with the same success as Richard Branson.” He explains, “You’re likely to pick up some useful skills but it’s important to highlight that no matter how much you admire someone, they’re not you and you’re not them. You can get some great ideas, tips and techniques, but you’ve got to find a way of making them work for you.”
Turner Traill concludes by emphasising the value of mentoring to everyone involved, “Everyone’s got something they can bring to it. Every day’s a school day – you can always learn from somebody.”