Peer mentoring in healthcare: The case for supporting junior doctors [and what you can do]

September 18, 2020

Dr Sonia Chanchlani

Dr Sonia Chanchlani is the CMO at MedApps as well as a Clinician, Med Ed leader and Karaoke Master

Peer mentoring in healthcare is a topic that has gained prominence over the past dozen years, and rightly so.

Recurring spates of clinician suicides prompt articles such as this month’s Medical Journal of Australia1 promoting system wide change and increased support mechanisms. 

Statistics presented in research conducted by the AMA Queensland2 highlighted several key concerns, with the following among them:

ConcernPercentage of respondents
Low job satisfaction71%
Compassion fatigue54%

Separately, but just as compelling, Beyond Blue reported3 in 2013 that junior doctors have 10 times the mental health problems experienced by other professions. The same report noted doctors under 30 years of age experienced higher rates of burnout. Not surprising was the suggestion that transition from study to work may be a particularly difficult time for junior medical officers (JMO). 

Indeed, it was noted additional support is required at this critical point in career development. If nothing else, findings like these highlight the value of implementing strategies, such as peer mentoring, to improve support and psychological wellbeing for junior doctors.

When should a peer mentoring program in healthcare be implemented?

For thousands of interns and residents facing the demands of new clinical placements several times within the first two years of working, the idea of additional support during this time may seem simultaneously a statement of the obvious, while also in direct opposition to acceptance that such support may be limited or unavailable. 

However, one recommendation from the 2009 AMA taskforce on junior doctor mental health was the introduction of a mentoring program.2 More recent research4 goes further, citing support needs to extend beyond clinical- and career-related, to organisational, social and personal too. 

For medical administrators and educators, implementing a peer mentoring program within the existing support framework may feel like another ‘to do’ on an endless list. Depending on the current bank of competing priorities and funding demands, the time of year, and the need to engage leadership support, a peer mentoring program can easily fall away as a priority, even with appreciation for its value.

There is good news, however. Research4 shows responsibility for implementing a peer mentoring program in healthcare does not have to reside solely in the hands of the hospital leadership team. Engaging junior medical officers in the peer mentoring program’s development and implementation adds to its success.

What’s the value of a peer mentoring program in healthcare?

Although improving junior doctor mental health, addressing burnout and poor job satisfaction is important, a peer mentoring program in healthcare is not just about keeping junior doctors happy.  Data from the Kings’ Fund5,6 in the United Kingdom and shows improved engagement with medical personnel leads to greater productivity at work and ultimately, better patient safety outcomes.

In a paper4 published in conjunction with my colleagues whose interest lies in learning more about peer-led mentoring, we found the value of a peer mentoring program helps interns to navigate the complex health care system and enhances a sense of community. Other benefits identified through this study are reassuring:

Benefits from a peer mentoring program for junior medical officers

  • More confidence navigating hospital and organisational questions, like applying for leave and maximising salary sacrifice
  • Learning from peers how to preparing for night shifts
  • Find out who to approach for research opportunities
  • A safe forum in which JMO can debrief, be reassured, and receive tips for self-care
  • Establish support networks and enjoy a sense of community
  • Meet pre and post term to discuss hesitations and to debrief
  • Connect with someone when you are new to an organisation and don’t know anyone
  • Provides the support to identify, and action a response to issues requiring escalation and executive management.

Having conducted research, and with the benefit of direct experience (both in medical education and in establishing successful peer mentoring programs for junior medical officers in a number of tertiary hospital settings), I believe a peer mentoring program is a way for junior doctors to get involved and build a sense of community. In fact, Australian research shows that junior doctors that are involved in quality improvement projects and research projects have better experience and enjoy a positive workplace culture positively impacting clinical retention, patient engagement, and cost effective clinical outcomes7

With participants experiencing net gains from a peer mentoring program – such as those listed above – it’s encouraging to learn that many mentees want to become mentors to the following year’s cohort of new interns. This is entirely achievable as the training needed is basic and easily accessed through the resource pack now available through Med App.

What about peer mentoring in healthcare beyond COVID-19?

Governments and healthcare organisations have acknowledged the challenges presented to the healthcare workforce by the current COVID-19 pandemic8.

In many ways, COVID magnified the impacts of working in a healthcare environment outlined above. It has also made both management and operational teams more aware of the vulnerabilities to which they’re exposed, and the imperative for confidence and competency; something difficult to achieve without the right support.

As we navigate a different future in healthcare beyond COVID, a peer mentoring system has the potential to provide the kind of support needed by JMO. Implemented in tandem with a technology platform like Med App, which provides relevant information to clinicians’, supports staff wellbeing, and leads to safe patient care, a peer mentoring program is a welcome addition to existing support structures provided by a hospital.

The take-aways

  1. Keep things simple – Don’t make the peer mentoring program a bigger hurdle than it needs to be.
  2. Engage management – Approach your medical education unit with the idea and explain the benefits.
  3. Get resourced – Download Med App* and learn more about getting involved at work through a peer mentoring program.
  4. Access the free Med App resource pack – Follow the steps to create your own peer networking program.
  5. Record and share the wins.

Are you looking to implement a peer mentoring program at your hospital or health service? Or maybe you already have an existing program or initiative in place and want to enhance it. If you’d like to learn more about peer mentoring in healthcare to support your JMO, the dedicated team at MedApps can help. Learn more at Med App, connect with Dr Sonia Chanchlani via email [email protected], or uncover the possibilities when you book a complimentary demonstration or access our COVID-19 Support Package.

1.  Swannell, Cate. “Reducing risk of suicide in medical profession.” Medical Journal of Australia. Sept 2020

  1. Markwell, Alexandra L., and Zoe Wainer. “The health and wellbeing of junior doctors: insights from a national survey.” Medical Journal of Australia 191.8 (2009): 441-444.
  2. Beyond Blue. National mental health survey of doctors and medical students. Oct 2013.—nmhdmss-full-report_web
  3. Chanchlani, Sonia, et al. “The value of peer mentoring for the psychosocial wellbeing of junior doctors: a randomised controlled study.” Medical Journal of Australia 209.9 (2018): 401-405.
  4. Spurgeon, Peter, Patti M. Mazelan, and Fred Barwell. “Medical engagement: a crucial underpinning to organizational performance.” Health Services Management Research 24.3 (2011): 114-120.
  5. West M, Dawson J. Employee engagement and NHS performance. The King’s Fund. 2012:1-23
  6. Dickson, Graham, et al. “Developing junior doctors as leaders of service improvement.” Leadership in Health Services (2014).
  7. Shanafelt, Tait, Jonathan Ripp, and Mickey Trockel. “Understanding and addressing sources of anxiety among health care professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Jama 323.21 (2020): 2133-2134.


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