The benefits to mentors, mentees, and medicine overall are clear and measurable

“Mentorship is the key ingredient for success in medicine,” wrote medical student Jackie Olive on KevinMD.com. Proponents of mentoring say that’s true not only for medical students and residents, but also for doctors at any stage of their careers. “I believe all physicians can benefit from having a mentor. Even mentors need mentors,” wrote Brian Harmych, M.D., on PhysiciansPractice.com.

Research has shown that mentoring can have positive effects on both organizations and staff. Professionals who are mentored tend to receive more promotions and higher compensation than those who don’t have mentors, and employers that implement mentoring programs have less employee turnover.

Whether your practice has a formal mentoring program in place, or you establish an informal arrangement with a colleague, mentoring is more important in medicine than ever. Read on to find out why.

Formal mentoring for onboarding new hires

Many medical schools have established mentoring programs in which students and residents are assigned mentors. Some larger medical practices and health care providers also implement formal mentoring programs for new hires.

Mentees develop a stronger connection to practice culture and get advice for coping with challenges.

For example, Wellspan Medical Group in Pennsylvania launched a formal mentorship program that matches newly hired physicians with experienced providers within the same specialty, according to research from Advisory Board. Regular meetings take place throughout the onboarding doctor’s first year. “Mentees are able to develop a stronger connection to practice culture and get advice for coping with early challenges,” an Advisory Board report stated. There are benefits for mentors, too. They report feeling more attached to organizational culture and goals, and are invested in the success of new hires.

Informal mentoring stems from mutual trust

A formal mentoring program is not the only way to benefit from the support and wisdom of other doctors, however. “In my experience, the best mentor-mentee relationships have been informal and stem from a mutual trust where both individuals play an active role in fostering the relationship,” stated Dr. Harmych.

“For most people, mentors are found, not necessarily assigned to them,” noted Marissa Camilon, M.D., on KevinMD.com. It may be that colleague working alongside you on any typical shift, just as well as one of the big-name leaders in your specialty, she added. Anyone whom you admire and whose opinion you trust is a potential mentor. Often, all it takes to establish a connection is simply expressing your interest and asking for advice over a cup of coffee.

‘Nothing is more satisfying than seeing how you were personally responsible for a mentee’s growth.’

As for doctors considering becoming mentors themselves, those who’ve done it recommend it highly. “I’ve experienced firsthand the personal gratification that comes from being a mentor. Nothing is more satisfying than seeing how you were personally responsible for a mentee’s growth,” wrote Dr. Harmych. In his experience, the most successful mentorships are formed by mentors who seek out mentees who have characteristics that resonate with them.

A study in Academic Medicine found that characteristics of effective mentees included being respectful of their mentor’s time, coming to meetings prepared with a list of topics, and being open to feedback. Characteristics of effective mentors included being honest, providing career guidance and opportunities, offering emotional support, and helping mentees navigate work-life balance.

Why mentoring matters

There’s another reason why mentoring may be more important today than ever before: to foster diversity and equality. Mentoring relationships have traditionally been between men and benefited men. This needs to change as the demographics of the medical workforce change.

A 2014 report from the Association of American Medical Colleges found that “8.9 percent of physicians identify as black or African-American, American Indian or Alaska Native, and Hispanic or Latino” and that among younger (<29) non-white physicians, women make up a greater percentage of the workforce (52 percent). These populations are particularly in need of support and mentorship.

Women and minorities ‘are particularly dependent on mentorship as they often struggle to feel accepted within the medical culture.’

A recent article in The Lancet noted, “Institutions that support a culture of mentorship are also more diverse and have a more inclusive environment than those without. Trainees from under-represented backgrounds are particularly dependent on mentorship as they often struggle to feel accepted within the medical culture, resulting in greater burnout and a lack of retention.”

For more on this topic, see Why Diversity Matters in Your Practice

To find a mentor or for tips on how to be a successful one, visit the American Academy of Family Physicians’ resource page. And for eye-care professionals, check out the post Finding Mentors in Ophthalmology.


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