Breakout session A: Accessing professional support and development through peers, mentors and coaches
‘When you’re up to your neck in alligators it’s easy to forget you came to drain the swamp’
Delivered by Mr David Pitts, Creative Learning Associates
At Life as a Consultant Symposium: Friday 16 March 2018

Doctors understand the need for the ongoing extension and development of their skills, sometimes they need additional support to do so. Identifying the resources to be able to provide such support, including the capacity of colleagues for advice on where to get it can be challenging. Whether that support is in the form of coaching, mentoring or informal support from colleagues the following are essential:

1.    Know what you want (and be realistic about what you need)
Part of this concerns content; There is likely to be an element of information you need, maybe some skills or even an attitude you need to reconsider. Make sure you are as clear as you can be about what you want to achieve. Part of knowing what you want concerns understanding your preferences for how you, as an individual, learn. Do you work best with books, video? Are you most likely to succeeded if you have an individual to support you in some way (including the strategy for your personal development to begin with)? Be honest about your needs. “Doctors in Development” are different from “Doctors in Difficulty”. If you are concerned that you need help with the latter it is quite different to getting some coaching on your communication skills or improving your time management.

2.    Know who can help you
It might be a coach, who helps you to improve your skills in a specific task area, it might be a mentor who guides you in an aspect of your career or personal development. Whoever it is they need the skill of working with you, in addition to any other expertise they may have. Each individual has their own needs and it is important that you are helped by the right person.

3.    Know where to get help
Building a professional network is a lifelong task but it always has a beginning. Your immediate colleagues may have experience of using coaches and mentors. They might themselves be able to take on the coaching or mentoring role for a specific activity or time period. Your hospital or health board may have a scheme or programme that can help you as might one of the Royal Colleges or Specialty Associations.

Successful athletes usually have a team of support workers, including a personal coach to help them build and maintain their success. Increasingly Doctors are seeing the benefit of working with coaches and mentors for the same reason.

Useful links:
British Medical Association offers confidential advice in a number of areas relating to Doctors in Difficulty
British Medical Journal’s BMJ learning website ( may help you to understand your needs in practical areas as a prelude to getting help and support
RCPE Enhance Mentoring Scheme:

Reviewed & links updated September 2021.