Embedding mentoring to support trial processes and implementation fidelity in a randomised controlled trial of vocational rehabilitation for stroke survivors

BMC Med Res Methodol. 2021 Oct 3;21(1):203. doi: 10.1186/s12874-021-01382-y.


Background: Little guidance exists regarding how best to upskill and support those delivering complex healthcare interventions to ensure robust trial outcomes and implementation fidelity. Mentoring was provided to occupational therapists (OTs) delivering a complex vocational rehabilitation (VR) intervention to stroke survivors. This study aimed to explore mentors' roles in supporting OTs with intervention delivery and fidelity, and to describe factors affecting the mentoring process and intervention delivery.

Methods: Quantitative data (duration, mode and total time of mentoring support) was extracted from mentoring records and emails between mentors and OTs, alongside qualitative data on barriers and facilitators to intervention delivery. Semi-structured interviews with mentors (n = 6) and OTs (n = 19) explored experiences and perceptions of intervention training, delivery and the mentoring process. Mean total and monthly time spent mentoring were calculated per trial site. Qualitative data were analysed thematically.

Results: Forty-one OTs across 16 sites were mentored between March 2018 and April 2020. Most mentoring was provided by phone or Microsoft Teams (range: 88.6-100%), with the remainder via email and SMS (Short Message Service) text messages. Mentors suggested strategies to enhance trial recruitment, improved OTs' understanding of- and adherence to trial processes, intervention delivery and fidelity, and facilitated independent problem-solving. Barriers to mentoring included OT non-attendance at mentoring sessions and mentors struggling to balance mentoring with clinical roles. Facilitators included support from the trial team and mentors having protected time for mentoring.

Conclusions: Mentoring supported mentee OTs in various ways, but it remains unclear to what extent the OTS would have been able to deliver the intervention without mentoring support, or how this might have impacted fidelity. Successful implementation of mentoring alongside new complex interventions may increase the likelihood of intervention effectiveness being observed and sustained in real-life contexts. Further research is needed to investigate how mentors could be selected, upskilled, funded and mentoring provided to maximise impact. The clinical- and cost-effectiveness of mentoring as an implementation strategy and its impact on fidelity also requires testing in a future trial.

Trial registration: ISRCTN, ISRCTN12464275 . Registered on 13th March 2018.

Keywords: Adherence; Implementation fidelity; Mentoring; Occupational therapy; Process evaluation; Randomised controlled trial; Stroke; Trial processes; Vocational rehabilitation.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Mentoring*
  • Mentors
  • Rehabilitation, Vocational
  • Stroke*
  • Survivors