Clinical mentoring is a critical component of I-TECH’s comprehensive approach to training, as it provides a bridge between didactic training and independent clinical practice. Clinical mentoring enables health care workers (HCW) to practice new skills in clinical settings with the support and guidance of a more specialized and experienced clinician. Intensive, practical training is especially important in HIV care and treatment given the diversity of illnesses associated with AIDS and the complexities of antiretroviral therapy (ART).
Typically, the clinical mentor is an experienced clinician-trainer who provides onsite training and consultation on complex cases; supports and enhances high level problem solving, diagnostic, and decision-making skills; leads case discussions; and addresses issues of quality assurance and continuing education. These mentoring activities take place in the context of an ongoing, two-way relationship between the mentor and the clinicians working at the site.
The I-TECH approach to mentoring includes five key components:
- Relationship building. The establishment of a trusting, receptive relationship between the mentor and mentee(s) that evolves and grows over the course of mentorship is the foundation of effective mentoring practice.
- Identifying areas for improvement. Observation and assessment of existing systems, practices, and policies leads to the identification of areas for improvement. I-TECH has developed a number of tools for use during the assessment phase. Information obtained during an assessment helps to inform the establishment of goals and objectives for the mentorship.
- Responsive coaching and modeling of best practices. Mentors must demonstrate proper techniques and model good clinical practice. Targeted activities with mentees may include demonstrating appropriate examination techniques, modeling proper infection control measures, and setting examples for establishing good rapport with patients.
- Advocating for environments conducive to quality patient care and provider development. This component relates to technical assistance in support of systems-level changes at a site. Mentors work with colleagues to enhance the development of clinical site infrastructure, systems, and approaches that can support the delivery of comprehensive HIV care.
- Data collection and reporting. Mentors support the utilization and integration of patient data into clinical practice by encouraging staff to adopt documentation practices that promote effective chronic disease management. Mentors can help demonstrate the utility of data collection and reporting to mentees during mentorship.
The ultimate goal of I-TECH’s clinical mentoring programs is to build the skills of local clinicians to become clinical mentors themselves. Ideally, as the pool of expert HIV/ART clinicians in each country expands, a network of local HIV clinical mentors will emerge to support and train other HIV clinicians with less experience.