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Mentorship & National Mentoring Month

Marc Moss, MD

Marc Moss, MD

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Mentors Within: Recognizing Mentor Month

Traditional Mentoring

“Companies live and die by their intellectual capital. If they fail to nurture this talent, they will lose the heart and soul of their firm, as well as the very people they recruited to give them an edge in a hypercompetitive world. They will need to build time into their schedules to nurture all their associates.” This quote is from the Harvard Business Review, which frequently discusses the importance of mentoring in business. Many of HBR’s ideas are also applicable to medicine. In recognition of National Mentoring Month, this column focuses on the importance of mentorship in health care.

Individuals are initially attracted to a career in health and medicine from a desire to make a difference in the world. Upon entry to many educational programs, trainees often do not know what they need to succeed, are unaware of available resources, and unsure of how to access them even when they are aware of their existence. Without a formalized plan to develop and sustain a medical or academic career, their enthusiasm and motivation can wane as they can become frustrated by a lack of understanding and direction.

In addition to a trainee’s background, social integration into their work environment can strengthen organizational commitment, increase longevity in a position, and boost employee morale. Programs and institutions can facilitate this by providing employee support, such as advising and counseling resources; facilitating peer networks and formal training programs; and implementing other methods to maintain an optimal work force infrastructure.

Proper mentorship is essential to enhance job satisfaction and provide successful career development. Mentorship positively influences productivity, feelings of self-efficacy, enjoyment and purpose at work, and also builds persistence. In the research world, mentees with influential and sustained research mentoring are more likely to devote additional time to research and excel in the future. Trainees who are nurtured publish more papers, are more likely to become principal investigators on grants, and mentor others in senior stages of their career.

A successful mentor needs to perform a variety of different roles. This can include: project oversight, guidance with career development, and assistance with work-life balance. To assist the alignment of expectations between all parties, a formal written mentoring compact between the trainees and their mentor(s), such as those developed by the Association of American Medical Colleges, can be beneficial.

One barrier to effective mentoring is a lack of training on how to be an effective mentor. Recent studies have demonstrated that mentors and mentees can benefit from a formal, structured training program to cement the mentor-mentee relationship. Successful mentoring requires commitment, certain interpersonal skills of both the mentor and the mentee, and a facilitating environment.

For additional reading, I find “Nature’s Guide for Mentors” by Adrian Lee, Carina Dennis and Philip Campbell useful.

Informal Mentoring

Outside of a structured arrangement, informal mentorships, vis-à-vis tutoring or coaching can form organically. Almost always, they develop at the initiation of the mentee, or early career professional. There are a couple ways you can develop these kinds of informal mentorships.

One approach is to build a network of mentors in various stages of professional life. For instance, if you are just starting out as a medical student, you could try to make connections with a resident, a fellow, a junior faculty member, all the way up to a training program director. You could offer value to your mentor network with periodic updates (two to four times a year for example) where you mention your progress, challenges, and also share any resources you’re excited about.

Informal mentorships can also form in the process of volunteer work. While the ATS Assemblies have formal mentoring programs, involving an application and mentor matching, volunteering through Society committees could also help in your search for a mentor.

Sharing resources cannot be underestimated. Mentoring is a two-way street. The mentee, as much as the mentor, has skills and knowledge he or she can share with teachers. Early career professionals shouldn’t feel shy about offering information just because they’re new to the job! You’d be surprised to learn how eager mentors are to learn from their mentees.

Who’s made a difference in your professional journey? The ATS Foundation has a unique way to say “thank you” and publicly recognize a past/current mentor. Learn more about our Honor Your Mentor program.