Public Health Nutrition

Capacity building

A qualitative evaluation of an Australian public health nutrition workforce development intervention involving mentoring circles

Claire Palermoa1 c1, Roger Hughesa2 and Louise McCalla3

a1 Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Level 5 Block E, Monash Medical Centre, Monash University, 246 Clayton Road, Clayton Victoria 3168, Australia

a2 School of Health and Sports Sciences, University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia

a3 School of Primary Health Care, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Monash University, Australia


Objective To evaluate a mentoring circle workforce development intervention among a group of public health nutrition novices.

Design The mentoring circle intervention focused on facilitating practice-based public health nutrition competence development and supporting reorientation of practice from clinical services to preventive services. A retrospective post-intervention qualitative semi-structured interview was used to explore the experiences of those participating in the mentoring circle and to make evaluative judgements about intervention attributes and effectiveness.

Setting Victoria, Australia.

Subjects Thirty-two novice public health nutrition practitioners employed in the state public health system.

Results Key evaluative theme categories relating to the mentoring circle intervention were identified, including the structure and function of the group, the utility of using advanced-level competency items to guide planning, having a safe and supportive environment for learning and the utility of learning via mentoring and on-the-job experiences. These qualitative evaluation data identify the attributes of the mentoring circle intervention contributing to intervention effectiveness.

Conclusions This qualitative evaluation indicates that mentoring circles can be an effective workforce capacity-building intervention, particularly in novice workforces characterised by professional isolation and split function roles.

(Received March 12 2010)

(Accepted July 13 2010)

(Online publication September 21 2010)


c1 Corresponding author: Email