Buddy Scheme for New Starters to Anaesthesia: A Model

The first year of anaesthetic training can be a fairly daunting time; lots of new theory and practical skills to learn, new colleagues and perhaps an unfamiliar hospital in a new part of the country.  Couple this with the need to complete the initial assessment of competency and then start thinking about the primary FRCA within a few months it would not be surprising if some new starters felt a bit overwhelmed and in need of support from someone who has been in their shoes.  With the advent of shift working and the fact that new trainees are likely to spend most days in theatre with a consultant it can take time for new starters to forge links with other trainees in their department.

Since 2009 the Northern School of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care have run a “Buddy Scheme” for new starters in anaesthesia where a new starter to anaesthesia is paired with a senior trainee (usually ST3+).   This can be a useful experience for the senior trainee too; providing support to a junior colleague whilst also keeping up to date with the current structure of the training system and any changes it is undergoing.

In addition junior trainees might find it easier to approach another trainee with queries and for advice rather than a consultant.  Such a supporting pastoral relationship may then remove some pressures from the junior trainee’s educational supervisor or college tutor allowing more time for training, assessment and paperwork.

The Northern Schools of Anaesthesia scheme was set up by Alex Beckingsale previous GAT vice chair.  The principles of the scheme are set out below as a model for anyone wishing to set up a similar programme.

  • It is a paper free scheme to enable and encourage an informal and relaxed peer support network of senior trainees (buddies) for new starters in anaesthesia and ACCS (anaesthesia).
  • Senior buddies are volunteers who:

o    Should ideally be post fellowship with at least a year of training left,
o    Offer informal and friendly advice to their junior trainee, acting as another point of contact during the first year of training,
o    Make contact with the junior trainee via e-mail initially, and then arrange to meet socially, perhaps with other buddy-trainee pairs,
o    Are not expected to be over-burdened by their role; it is not anticipated that they would be required to make contact with their trainee more than once per month.

  • After the initial contact the buddy-trainee relationship may vary from no further contact or intermittent e-mail contact to regular social meetings. Whether they continue to make contact and how this contact is made is entirely up to the trainee and their buddy.
  • Initially the period of support is anticipated to be a year, however this can continue if mutually agreeable to both trainees.  It may be useful to continue the period of support throughout the pre-fellowship period, providing a consistent point of contact for the junior trainee.
  • It is likely that all that will be required of the buddy is a chat now and then but should it become apparent that the new starter is requiring more formal input it should be made clear to both parties on entering the buddy-trainee relationship that:

o    A buddy is not able to provide counselling but can put the trainee in touch with the appropriate support,
o    A buddy is expected to uphold their duties of a doctor in the unlikely situation of a suspected compromise to patient safety,
o    A buddy cannot aid in the completion of paperwork related to workplace based assessment or educational supervision,
o    A buddy is not expected to be entirely up to date with all the current training requirements for new starters in anaesthesia but is encouraged to direct questions to the appropriate party and help in researching accurate information.

  • If it is apparent that the junior trainee is encountering difficulties whether they are personal or professional the buddy should encourage them to seek support from their School of Anaesthesia e.g. Educational Supervisor, College Tutor, Training Programme Director.

Practical points when setting up a scheme:

  • The Northern Schools of Anaesthesia Buddy Scheme is endorsed by the School and all initial communication is via the School.
  • Someone will need to administrate the scheme and make the pairings.  In the Northern School this was a senior trainee but it could equally be a consultant with an interest in trainee welfare.
  • E-mail all ST3+ trainees with information regarding the programme and asking for volunteers.  Volunteer buddies are briefed by an e-mail explaining what is expected and which other sources of support are available to both the junior trainee and the senior buddy if required.
  • Contact all new starters prior to commencing post introducing the Buddy Scheme.  In particular ensure that they are aware that you are going to pass on their e-mail address to another trainee and give them the option to opt out of the programme.
  • Further introduction to the Buddy Scheme at the new starters induction day with an opportunity for junior trainee to ask questions about it.
  • Attempt to make some logical pairings e.g. within the same part of the region if covers a large geographical area, within same hospital, LTFT trainee paired with LTFT trainee, military trainee paired with military trainee etc.
  • Send e-mail contact details of the junior trainee to the senior buddy and ask them to make contact within the first month of the post commencing.
  • The administrator can send reminder e-mails to both parties and be available to receive feedback regarding the scheme.

Experience from the Northern School of Anaesthesia (with thanks to Alex Beckingsale):

  • The Northern Schools scheme is an informal peer support system for new starters.  It is not mentoring and cannot provide counselling as both of these require formal training.
  • The feedback from both junior trainees and buddies has been positive on the whole.
  • Many junior trainees do fail to make contact with their senior buddy but it is a voluntary scheme and it is hoped that these trainees just don’t require it, however most have acknowledged that it is reassuring to know there is a point of contact if required.
  • The scheme has not been too laborious to set up and administrate therefore it is very worthwhile for the cohort of trainees who do find it a really useful source of support during the initial year of training.
  • It would be great to lengthen the period of support to cover the pre-fellowship years however this would make it difficult to have enough buddies for each new intake unless buddies were willing to be paired with more than one trainee.  Therefore currently in the Northern Schools the period of support through the Buddy Scheme is one year.