[00:00:00] Mat: Welcome to Doctors at Work. My name’s Mat Daniel and this podcast is about doctors’ careers. Today I’m having a conversation with Nathan Walker. He’s been involved with ASIT, that’s Association of Surgeons in Training for a long period of time, and he runs the ASIT mentoring course. In this episode, he tells me how he got started in society leadership roles and he outlines how one role leads to more opportunities.
He runs the mentoring course and tells me what mentoring is and how to run a course. I love his passion for mentoring. One of his top tips when considering leadership roles is to stop worrying about rejection and focus on learning instead. I hope it’s useful.
Welcome Nathan, tell me a little bit about yourself.
[00:00:58] Nathan: Hi, Mat. Thanks so much, firstly, for inviting me onto the podcast. I’m really grateful. So my name is Nathan Walker. I’m an ENT registrar over in the Northwest of England, and I’m also the mentoring lead for ACIT, which is the Association of Surgeons and Training.
I’ve been the mentoring lead for ACIT for a good couple of years now. I think it’s two to three years and I really enjoy doing it. It’s a fantastic scheme to be a part of.
[00:01:20] Mat: How did you get involved with ACIT in the first place?
[00:01:23] Nathan: So it was actually as a medical student, believe it or not I was actually just scrolling through social media, this is a long time ago now, and I came across ASIT just on, on Twitter and I had a look and thought, oh this sounds like me as a medical student who was interested in surgery.
So I did a little bit more digging looked on the website, and it turned out that actually they had, roles that you could be a part of ACIT or part of the ACIT council. So I looked for the roles, and actually the most appropriate one for me was medical student representative. So I had a little look, and it just happened that the timing fit quite nicely, and that they were looking for a new representative.
So I thought, okay. So I had a little chat with the current with who was the current ACIT representative at the time, and asked them about their role, And how to get involved. And is there any kind of advice that they had? And they gave some really good advice. And it was all, it was always very positive about the role itself.
So I thought, Oh, I’ll throw an application in. And then it was very lucky, very fortunate to get it. And then it just snowballed from there, really, once I joined and got a flavour for it. I found that, the role that ASIT has and the sort of fingers in so many pies is just, is amazing.
And I never wanted to leave.
[00:02:27] Mat: It’s interesting because when I asked this question of other people, I often get this idea that people start small and then one thing leads to another. You’re good at what you do and then people keep asking you to do additional stuff. What, how did you actually manage to get that first role?
How did you get selected for that role?
[00:02:44] Nathan: So it was it was an online application. So you had to submit a personal statement of, why you thought that you’d be good for the role. And if you had any ideas for the role, what it would be. And you also had to submit a CV as well.
And then that was shortlisted. And then that was it really, you just threw that in. And then you found out, a month or two later when all the applications had been marked, and you’ve been involved with ASIT, I know for a number of years now. .
[00:03:09] Mat: What kind of a person do you need to be to succeed in those kind of society roles?
[00:03:15] Nathan: I think it’s about engagement really. I think there’s, in order to succeed in any kind of counsel related role, you have to be committed and you have to really want to, change the face of surgical training in ASIT’s case. And I was always very committed to wanting. the absolute best for whoever that was in, each role.
And then that was obviously being medical students at the time. When I was a medical student, I felt like my experience in surgery was good, but definitely could have been improved. And I wanted to improve that as much as I could. And I think, some of the ideas that I thought about that I brought to the council, thankfully were, quite well received and that kind of thing.
Exactly as you described, things snowball from there and then, council members will say, Oh, we’ve got this project going on and I said, Would you like to be a part of this? And, by picking the right ones and choosing your time carefully so you’re not overwhelmed with different things.
I found that most of the things that I did were thankfully received and quite successful.
[00:04:06] Mat: And how do you manage the workload required with your clinical work?
[00:04:12] Nathan: So it’s difficult. I think setting clear boundaries was helpful. Because obviously having a time out of… Out of work is obviously very important as well.
I would allocate usually and I still do this to be fair, one or two nights a week to, to, spend a couple of hours on whatever ASIT related work that I was doing. And I would fit that in around my timetable. If I was working on the weekend, I’d make sure that I would do it.
Or I had a particular, event on that weekend, I’d make sure I’d do it during the week. Or if I couldn’t do it in the week, just, making time for it. Amen. Making sure that when I spent that time, my head was down and I was doing it, I wasn’t half doing it whilst watching the TV and it taking double the amount of time.
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Thank you. Now on with the show. How did you get interested in mentoring?
[00:05:15] Nathan: Really it was so I’ve always been interested in teaching and I know that’s obviously not the same thing. But I’ve always had an interest in medical education and that kind of thing and then When I was previously a clinical teaching fellow in surgery.
So when I was teaching the medical students they would often, come up at the end of the session and say to me, Oh, Nathan, what do you think about a career in surgery? I’m trying to apply. Have you got any tips? These kind of things. And then. I realized as time went on that actually that, these, medical students and junior doctors were looking for mentors.
That’s what they were looking for. And so I did a little bit more reading about mentoring because, I think everybody does a little bit of ad hoc mentoring here and there, but is it true, truly trained mentoring. And then in 2014 the ASIT mentoring scheme commenced its pilot.
Now I was I wasn’t on the council at that time. That was before my time, the pilot was very successful. As it published a study that looked at students and junior doctors looking for surgical mentors. And they found that, 90 percent wanted them, but only about 50 percent had them.
So clearly there was a gap in the market. And then I spoke to the current mentoring lead at that time, said, I’d be interested to get involved and then. As time went on, they said, there was a deputy mentoring role that you could start with to get a bit more training and understanding before, going to the mentoring scheme itself.
So that’s how I got involved from there.
[00:06:31] Mat: What is mentoring?
[00:06:34] Nathan: So I think mentoring is very specific for different people. So for me, mentoring is a two way transformational conversation. between two individuals, not necessarily hierarchical but basically focused on development of the mentee.
And as I say, transformation in order to help them be the absolute best that they can be.
[00:06:57] Mat: And how is that different from those informal mentoring conversations? We, as you said, all of us have. Those conversations, the coffee room, the corridor conversations, how’s formal mentoring different to that?
[00:07:09] Nathan: I think with formal mentoring training and formal mentoring schemes, the certainly in the training that I’ve had. The onus is a little bit less on transactional mentoring. I come to you with a problem, you tell me how to fix it. And I go away and fix it. In the mentoring that I’ve done in the mentoring that I tried to do with my mentees, the focus is more around, like I said, transformational learning.
So how can that mentee overcome the obstacles that they have? And usually that process, that transformational process is far more beneficial to them. Rather than me just telling them what to do, because often, if I tell them what to do, it might not necessarily be the right thing.
[00:07:45] Mat: So the people that go on the course that you now run what would be your top three or four things that you teach them on the course?
[00:07:54] Nathan: I think we, the main things that we focus on are the founding principles of coaching or mentoring. The idea that the mentee is very resourceful. The idea that we facilitate the mentee in achieving their goals. And it’s not about advice giving necessarily. And that in fact, the mentee leads the session, they set the agenda for what they want to achieve.
And the idea that, it’s not a hierarchical thing, but the mentor and the mentee are on an equal playing field and ultimately it’s all about change. So how can we get you from a to be. With some realistic goals, and we tried to in the course, it’s not going to be, I’m going to see you and then you’re going to be a consultant, and that’s, in 30 minutes is going to be realistic.
Each session we try and set out realistic targets to slowly, chip away at that end goal if that’s what that is.
[00:08:41] Mat: So I can see how the mentee would benefit, but you said it was a two way process. So what’s in it for the mentor?
[00:08:48] Nathan: So I think there’s lots, there’s lots of benefits for people to get involved as surgical mentors.
Certainly from a slightly personal view I found so, so many benefits from mentoring mentees. The joy that it brings when you find someone and they there’s that eureka moment of, okay, yeah, this is how I can solve that problem. It is really satisfying and actually coming up with ideas to solve other people’s problems sometimes can be quite applicable in your own situation as well.
So although they don’t necessarily know it, in fact, they’re mentoring me as much as I’m mentoring them.
[00:09:18] Mat: So let’s move on to the course itself because you now run the mentoring course. Is that right?
[00:09:24] Nathan: Yeah, that’s good. I’ve done that for about one or two years now.
[00:09:27] Mat: What goes into running a course?
[00:09:31] Nathan: Specifically to the ASIT mentoring course, it’s run over two days.
Previously, we would do it at the Royal College in London, but since COVID hit, we’ve transformed the course into a virtual setting, which comes with its pros and its cons. It’s run over two days and we have faculty members involved and basically we go through a guide, a quick guide to mentoring. Now it’s not a catch all to be the perfect surgical mentor, but we feel that it gives it gives delegates a really good start.
And then they can be involved in the ASIT mentoring schemes that we run and help them get matched up with mentees and hopefully give them the skills to kickstart as a mentor. And we also run ASIT mentoring masterclasses where existing surgical mentors come back and we can have a brainstorm of ideas and help them progress.
[00:10:21] Mat: And what kind of a person makes a good mentor, do you think?
[00:10:25] Nathan: I don’t think that there is a catch all to be a good mentor. I think You know, diversity of surgical mentors is really important. Anybody can be a surgical mentor if they’ve got the right mindset for it, in my opinion. I think you have to be open minded and I think you have to be quite reflective in your practice and allowing the mentee to reflect in their own practice.
That’s what I feel, is useful as a surgical mentor. Yeah.
[00:10:49] Mat: So it’s more about the mindset rather than any particular individual characteristics.
[00:10:55] Nathan: I think so. I think so.
[00:10:57] Mat: Okay. And if there are any surgical trainees listening how do they get involved either as a mentee or a mentor?
[00:11:04] Nathan: Yeah, absolutely. The ASIT mentoring scheme is free for ASIT members. So if you’re an ASIT member, you’re automatically eligible to be part of the scheme. And on the ASIT website, there’s the mentoring section that you can go on and there’s the applications for the mentees and for the mentors.
And basically just send an application to us and we’ll process that. If it’s for a mentee, then we’ll get you set up with an ASIT mentor. And if it’s to be a mentor, then we’ll get you booked in with the next available mentoring. program, the next mentoring course. The next one, for example, is in early November.
[00:11:38] Mat: And for you running the course, what does that do for you personally and for your career?
[00:11:43] Nathan: I think every time I do the course, I get different benefits from it. Because I get different perspectives from people that reflect on the principles that we teach. And, every time there’s always one or two people that come, and it’s just completely not what they thought mentoring was about.
And they come and they’re a little bit apprehensive. Sometimes people think it’s slightly on the softer skills and they’re a bit yeah, not sure how to go with it, but by the end they’re often flying and it’s that transformational process that I really love teaching and I get a lot out of it.
[00:12:17] Mat: And in terms of, again, for people that are early on in their careers that are thinking of getting involved in society roles or in leadership roles. or running courses. What tips would you have for somebody who’s thinking, okay, I want to do something, but I’m not sure what, I’m not sure how did they get started?
[00:12:34] Nathan: Yeah, I think it’s just about looking around and seeing what’s available and what might fit for you. There are so many different roles within different, communities and different societies. I have a huge council now. Every time I go to the conference and we have a council picture gets bigger and bigger.
I don’t even know how many there are. probably over 50, I would imagine of all different regions, all different specialties, all different interests. So I think just researching around, if it’s in surgery, things like acid, if there’s specific surgical specialties you’re interested in, they often always have, junior sections, be it, for example, I’m involved in ENT.
So ENT UK have SFO there’s all sorts of things available and just have a look, are you interested in research leadership? Are you interested in? medical education leadership? Are you interested in, being a council member and trying to advocate change on a national level for surgical trainees?
It really just depends. And then I think not being afraid to throw your oar in and give it a really good go. As, as many, as, as grateful as I am for all the opportunities that I’ve had, I’ve been knocked back many times as well, and that’s absolutely okay.
[00:13:41] Mat: How do you deal with those knockbacks?
[00:13:44] Nathan: I actually try, so I always try and ask for feedback. And why is it that this particular time things didn’t come off? And try not to think of it as a knockback and try to think of it as actually, this is a really good thing that this has happened because I’m going to get better as a result of it.
So have a real reflection on, why it was that I personally think I might not have gotten the role or why it is that, the people employing me or the people selecting me felt that I wasn’t the right fit for them. And I’m really reflecting on that and thinking, okay next time, how am I going to be better from that?
And just being secure enough in yourself to know that transformation is. useful and beneficial and ultimately will make you a better person going forward.
[00:14:23] Mat: Yeah, I’m glad you talked about that idea of people being afraid because I was thinking there’s probably a lot of people out there that say, oh, it’s not for me.
I won’t get it anyway. Does somebody better qualified? And people talk themselves out of it. And a lot of that, as you say is fear that you’re not going to succeed. And I really you’ve mentioned the idea that people focus on what they’re going to learn rather than what they’re going to, whether they’re going to get the role or they’re not going to get it.
[00:14:49] Nathan: Yeah, absolutely. And I was one of those people, I was definitely one as a medical student, I’m thinking, Oh gosh, when I when I apply to surgery, I’m going to have to all these leadership roles. I’m not good enough. Beating yourself up. I’m not, I’m not going to get them.
So what’s the point, but actually, there’s no harm in just trying an application and you’ll be surprised because you’re probably your own worst critic.
[00:15:12] Mat: So you used to be one of those people. What, how did you manage to change your mindset?
[00:15:17] Nathan: I think it’s a slow process.
It’s not something that happens overnight. And I think just getting those feedbacks, like I said, and really reflecting on, okay, this happened. Why did it happen? Why do I feel that I’m not good enough for this particular role? And instead of trying to go down the spiral of, oh, I’m just, I’m not clever enough, or I’m not academic enough or whatever.
Actually, what are the objective things? Be objective about it. And getting other people, friends, colleagues supervisors, mentors to have a chat with and say, okay how do you feel about that? And then trying to change the mindset to, okay, this didn’t happen this time, but actually, you are good enough.
It just didn’t happen for whatever myriad of reasons. So the next time, and there will be a next time because you are going to make them be a next time, things will be different.
[00:16:05] Mat: I’m interested in you working as a mentor. What kind of issues do people bring? I don’t need specific details or anything identifiable, but in general terms, what kind of topics do people bring to mentoring?
[00:16:19] Nathan: It’s really varied. It really depends on that individual, where they are in their stage of their life, never mind their career and what they want to bring. There is no, there’s no taboo subject because then they know as part of our Code of Conduct and the mentorship agreement that we signed that everything is absolutely confidential.
So it can be a whole range of things from, people looking for the next stage in their career and trying to focus on how they’re going to, get that next job. Or it might be, something more personal in their life or issues that they’ve had at work that they want to talk about.
It really is very varied and that’s one of the fruitful things that I like about it is that no mentoring session is the same.
[00:16:59] Mat: And maybe if I pick up some top tips then for each of those groups. So you’ve obviously spoken to a lot of people that are looking at progressing their career.
So what would be your top tips for somebody who’s looking to progress their career?
[00:17:11] Nathan: So I think the first thing is to know where you’re going. So Having a real think about what it is you want to do because that’s often half the battle, I want to do and I’m a junior doctor now.
I’m a foundation doctor. I’m not really sure where I want to go. Do I want to do an F3 year? Do I want to just go straight into training? Do I even want to work in this country? And it’s about, just spending that time because that’s useful time invested into what it is that you want to do, because then you can work backwards.
You can say, okay, my goal is to be a consultant surgeon. How am I going to get that? Okay. The next step is to apply for core surgical training, right? So I’m going to look at the core surgical training application system and where does, where do I stack up against it and what there is, what is there to do and just breaking it down to manageable bite sized chunks.
Okay this week I’m going to focus on this audit and just, one, again, like I said, chipping away slowly with realistic timeframes in order to, to what it is that you want to achieve.
[00:18:09] Mat: And you mentioned that some people will bring challenging workplace. So what would be your tips for somebody that’s facing challenges at work?
Of course, it depends what the challenge is, but in general terms.
[00:18:21] Nathan: Yeah. So I think it was, so in situations like that, it’s useful to reflect on why that is the case. In order to address the core issue. So if it’s, a relationship with a colleague, for example, what is the difficulty in that relationship?
Why has that happened? What are the events that have led up to that situation? And then how can you change things going forward? How say you were, what’s the ideal outcome of the scenario? Oh the ideal outcome is that the relationship’s great with my trainer, and I get more cases in theatre.
Okay let’s say that situation has happened, what are the steps that you need to achieve that? Maybe I could be more open or just have a discussion with them about how that… How I’m feeling and how we can change it going forward. Okay. So when are we going to do that?
So it’s just about, those kinds of reflective conversations about the events that have happened in a safe space. And often once people have done that, they can often root the issue out and make. amendments or improvements going forward.
[00:19:23] Mat: And then my final question, if I return back to your in leadership roles or in society roles, what would be your top tips for somebody who’s thinking about taking on a leadership role?
[00:19:35] Nathan: So I think absolutely do it. Because once you’ve gotten in there, the benefits like I said, they snowball, they, it really is such a beneficial thing to do and will often lead on to multiple opportunities. And I think, like I said, don’t be afraid to get stuck in regardless of, seniority in a council role or whatever it is, everybody is there to benefit the system, to benefit, in ASIT’s case surgical training.
So we want to hear from you. There’s no such thing as a stupid idea. It doesn’t exist. So really don’t be afraid to get stuck in and help out because often if you do, the benefits will far outweigh the work that you have to put in for it.
[00:20:13] Mat: Wonderful. Thank you very much