The satisfaction of being part of someone else’s success is the ideal attribute for a Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) control room mentor.
Of course, the mentor candidate must be proficient, enthusiastic, possess protocol expertise, and be able to provide honest and direct feedback. The desire to help others is a given in the profession.
But the willingness to propel someone else forward? Not everyone wants to be bothered while on task. Not everyone has the confidence to hand over hard-earned experience to improve someone else’s performance. Not everyone can take another’s reasoning into account over their own.
Not everyone is EMD Nikki McAuley.
“Mentoring is difficult,” said Jonny McMullan, Control Training & Quality Assurance Officer, NIAS, Belfast, Northern Ireland. “Good mentoring takes a person who believes in what they’re doing and is genuinely interested in guiding others.”
McAuley started in emergency dispatch five years ago. Her husband is a paramedic, and she wanted to work for the ambulance service. She was not quite sure what to expect, which, coincidentally, falls into the many reasons she would never change what she does.
“No day is ever run-of-the-mill,” she said. “I never know what I’m going to get with the next call, but I have the structure to help. I like that.”
McAuley mentored under McMullan and prior to the official program, she volunteered for the NIAS buddy system. She introduced new recruits to the control room. She showed them around and helped make them comfortable in their new setting.
McMullan is an IAED™ certified Mentorship Instructor. He had observed McAuley in the buddy role and encouraged her to take the three-day mentoring certification course. She would not be involved in training since that is done in the classroom. Mentoring is more one-on-one, McMullan explained. The mentor is more of a confidante, a person the new EMD can approach to discuss specific challenges and issues.
“Mentoring is the bridge between training and the call,” he said.
The bridge building is neither random nor a hit-or-miss proposition. McMullan recognizes patterns in people. He compares learning styles. He pairs the mentor and mentee according to their ability to relate from a similar perspective. Some level of commonality, he said, can bring the relationship together.
While not a perfect science, “We normally do quite well in identifying what the new EMD needs and the mentor that can provide that assistance. By the time we pair them, it works.”
The mentor and mentee sit in proximity—masked and six feet apart as a COVID-19 precaution—connected by headsets to the same call. McAuley has a whiteboard to provide non-verbal advice or cues, if necessary, without interrupting the call. Sometimes, she pushes the new EMD ever so slightly to increase confidence. The mentor and mentee can spend up to four weeks together, although the relationship often extends beyond a defined time frame.
“The relationship never really ends; a close bond is created,” McAuley said. “It’s having a friend in the control room. You get to know them really well.”
McAuley finds personal satisfaction in watching the mentee’s confidence grow. She can see the changes and like a proud parent, she shares in the enthusiasm of a good call and the EMD’s recognition of “I’ve got this.” Also like a parent she must let go, cut the headset wires, so to speak. She is always open to giving advice and support. Yet, she can also sense when it is time to move on.
“They stop looking at me for reassurance,” she said. “They’re ready to be on their own.”
McMullan said mentors are critical to learning and creating a comfortable and reassuring culture. They provide a safety net.
“They’re hugely important,” he said. “Mentors provide critical protection for the patient and the trust. We would genuinely be at a loss without them.”