Formal mentoring programmes were not in place till recent years in our universities and postgraduate training centers. We, as undergraduates and postgraduates, probably mentally decided on a particular teacher/ lecturer as a mentor and got advice from them. I cannot remember whether I had a mentor during my undergraduate days. However, during my postgraduate training, I had selected a mentor, possibly without the knowledge of the mentor herself. I believe that it is this relationship that allowed me to achieve my goals. It is most likely that I learned the attributes to be a successful mentor from her.
Mentoring programmes are organised now in the universities and for postgraduate trainees. These have mostly become a reality following tragedies to students, which is unfortunate.
I am a mentor for formal mentoring programmes now. My idea of being a mentor is to harness the best in the mentee to enhance their character and their professional life. I would encourage a mentee to be a lifelong learner and to think and work beyond the norms. I believe in sharing my knowledge and expertise with my mentee with the ultimate goal of benefit to mankind.
It is necessary that the mentor – mentee relationship is built up on trust, confidentiality, sensitivity and mutual respect. Currently I meet my mentees on a regular basis and as and when they request for a meeting. Our discussions are varied and mostly are around their career goals and expectations, their achievements, exam stresses, and other home and work-related stress factors. I ensure that I do not dictate to them what their actions should be but discuss with them the positives and negatives and their strengths to overcome issues. I must say that the mentees I have had so far have been positive individuals with a drive for excellence in their professional life.
I strongly believe that ‘training to be a mentor’ is important.
Professor Anuja Abayadeera
Head, Department of Anaesthesiology & Critical Care
Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo
My first encounter of a mentor-mentee relationship began when I went for my overseas training as a specialty trainee in anaesthetics at Worthing Hospital, Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in the United Kingdom almost ten years ago. Though I had heard of such relationships, I had no experience of what was expected of me as a mentee. My idea of a mentor was someone who would support and guide me if I was in difficulty.
Adaptation to a new culture and meeting diverse individuals both as colleagues and peers was indeed a challenge. I was concerned if I would be guided in my first few months and whom I should approach in case of any difficulty.
I was allocated a “mentor” from the same clinical department and my first encounter with her was less than a month after commencing my overseas job as a trainee in anaesthetics. I was nervous as I did not know what would unfold in front of me. As I walked in to the consultants’ room within the department, my nervousness built up when I saw a sign-post on the door stating “Do not disturb: meeting in progress”.
I was pleasantly surprised when I was asked to take a seat and make myself comfortable. I soon realized that the sign post outside meant that this session was entirely dedicated for me and that no one should disturb this meeting. What followed next was a rapid-firing session. I was asked about my priorities, my expectations and if I had any deadlines for what I intended to do in the UK. I realized that she was actively listening to all that I was saying and even took down notes.
At the end of a 45- minute session, a table of contents was placed in front of me with skills I needed to acquire, courses I needed to attend, fellowship examination preparatory courses I should follow, all in order of priority and deadlines against each task. In a nutshell, it was all to do with my professional development. What followed next was a general conversation and any other concerns un-related to academic activities. I did not feel the time go by. A date for the next mentoring session was scheduled six months later. This was continued until I completed my overseas stint. I still keep in touch with my first mentor who exposed me to a mentor-mentee relationship which helped me to achieve my desired goals.
The next encounter of a similar relationship was once I joined the Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo as an academic. I joined as a senior lecturer in anaesthesiology following completion of my board certification as a consultant anaesthetist. I got enrolled in the academic mentoring programme conducted by the faculty and received further invaluable insight. However, I must admit that initially when I was requested to find a mentor of a different discipline, I was not quite sure if that would make it easy for me to share my thoughts and ideas with him/her. I was wrong. My new mentor helped me reflect on what I wished to acquire and motivated me to move forward from day one as an academic. She was (and still is) approachable and supportive. As a result, it did not take long for me to get acclimatized to the university culture as an academic.
Ten years later, as a trainer (after that very first mentee-mentor relationship) I now mentor both undergraduate and postgraduate trainees. What have I learnt? Each mentee and the approach to each one of them is different. I still learn from my mentees and I believe it is a win-win situation for both parties concerned. I find the sessions most rewarding when, even within my busy clinical schedule, the mentee achieves most of what he/she intends to achieve with my guidance. Finally, I firmly believe that mentor-mentee relationships are essential for us to achieve our goals and aspirations. They pave the way for each of us to become what we want to be within ourselves.
Senior Lecturer in Anaesthesiology & Consultant Anaesthetist
Department of Anaesthesiology & Critical Care
Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo
‘Mentoring is to support and encourage people to manage their own learning in order that they may maximize their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be”
When asked to write an article about my experience as a mentor, my first response was that I had very little experience with this topic. …. I had given up writing this article after several failed attempts; however, the encouragement and support of the colleague who entrusted me with this task, kept me going!
I am now a Paediatric Endocrinologist and a clinical teacher in Paediatrics, working with afflicted children and their families. My passion is to improve the quality of life of these children through improved care and clinical research, and I strive to inspire, encourage and motivate medical trainees and junior colleagues to follow this path with me.
Spurred on by the task in hand, I took a trip down memory lane to see who were the mentors, who had encouraged me to take this path, and realised that although I had never consciously been aware of a mentor-mentee relationship, my inspiration came from many role models from early life onwards. My parents were very likely my first and perhaps best mentors…. My father through his insatiable passion for learning through experiences even today in his early eighties; and my mother, for her never-ending energy to seek out and help those in need, often going the extra mile, that others had never even thought about.
My father often told me in my early days that “nothing learnt is ever a waste”. It helped me through the long months overseas, when I was struggling to handle both clinical training and doctoral research, while caring for my young family at the same time. Though the question “why am I doing this?” occurred repeatedly in my mind, my father’s words together with unwavering support from my spouse urged me on. Today almost ten years after embarking on that unforgettable 3-year-journey, I am finally glad that I did it! Reflecting back, I think that this encouragement and support helped to maximize my potential and develop my skills while helping me to become the person I want to be.
My mother’s influence made me impatient to return to my home country and use my newly developed skills to help others. This I feel was the strongest driving force, that enabled me to complete my PhD even before the minimum stipulated period despite all odds.
However, when I returned to Sri Lanka in 2015, I was somewhat isolated. I needed to re-orient myself to the good old Sri Lankan systems, and figure out what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be. Although I joined the Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo in 2010, there was no formal AMP program functioning. I was pleasantly surprised when I received an email at this time to attend the inaugural AMP programme as a mentee. During the workshop, I realised how unaware I had been of the many resources that were available to me. It was lovely to be able to choose a mentor and to be able to meet her at any time, when I was in need of guidance. My mentor helped me to re-orient myself and focus on completing my basic requirements for confirmation in my post. The guidance she provided has been most helpful for my career pathway. Although I only received this mentoring for a brief period, it was a much-needed breath of fresh air for me as I was feeling quite stifled by all the rules and regulation and the heat back in Sri Lanka1
Once I realised the value of having a good mentor through the AMP programme, I then sought guidance from other senior colleagues who I felt would “support and encourage me to maximize my potential, develop my skills, and become the person I wanted to be”. I thus got the opportunity to initiate and carry out two projects which are very close to my heart.
One was the bus-stop talks, a novel communication method I experienced during overseas training, which we successfully modified and implemented in our own faculty with great success. The second was the Chandi-Bandi project, a novel school-based program to prevent obesity among primary school children in Sri Lanka. Behind both these successes were mentors who saw the potential in me, and supported my endeavours. I am now blessed with excellent mentorship, which is helping me to challenge my limiting assumptions and take active steps to excel in my career pathway to become the best version of myself. I remain committed to improving myself with the encouragement of great mentors and envisage to be one myself.
I feel I finally truly understand what true mentorship is about and how it has helped me throughout my life to reach my true potential. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to share my experiences as a mentee. I wish the AMP program, initiated by the Faculty of Medicine, Colombo all the very best to reach greater heights and create a more supportive and encouraging work environment for all of us.
Sumudu Nimali Seneviratne,
Senior Lecturer in Paediatrics & Consultant Paediatric Endocrinologist,
Department of Paediatrics, Faculty of Medicine,
University of Colombo