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Forming Successful Physician Mentor-Mentee Relationships


The guidance of my physician mentors and the knowledge I gained from serving as a mentor myself has had a great, positive impact on my career as a physician.

“I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.”
- Hippocratic Oath (Modern Version)

The profession of medicine has always been deeply rooted in the belief of passing the torch to those who follow in our footsteps.  My practice philosophy, work ethic, knowledge, and skills have all been shaped in some way by other physicians. 

I know I would not be where I am today without the guidance of my physician mentors.  I not only desire, but feel it is my duty, to pass on what I’ve learned to those who follow in my footsteps.     
What makes a great mentor-mentee relationship?
The word “mentor” comes from Homer’s Odyssey where Mentor, Odysseus’ loyal adviser, served as a surrogate father and teacher for Odysseus’ son Telemachus while Odysseus was off fighting the Trojan War. 

However, in reality the mentor and protégé relationship is not so patriarchic.  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. 

These relationships have benefitted me both professionally, such as in career advancement, and personally, such as in support, guidance and role modeling.  Even after my mentor-mentee relationships have ended, I have remained close personal friends with many of my mentors. 

Who needs a mentor?
I believe all physicians can benefit from having a mentor.  Even mentors need mentors. 

Mentorships often result in greater career benefits such as career satisfaction and fulfillment, as well as greater benefits to organizations that encourage mentorships. 

Those who have mentors gain more power in organizations and advance at a faster rate than those who do not.  Also, mentees receive more promotions, higher compensation, and greater career mobility than non-protégés.

Why should one become a mentor?
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. 

Knowing all the lives your mentee will touch based on the ways you have molded and shaped them is a gift that gives in perpetuity.

These relationships have also exposed my own limitations, prompting me to grow in areas in which I was deficient.  Many of these relationships have even evolved into some of my closest personal friendships.

How can one find a great mentor?
During residency, we were assigned community mentors.  These forced formalized relationships all too often resulted in only a single meeting where both parties showed a general disinterest in one another and close relationships were hardly ever formed. 

In contrast, I’ve noticed that most successful mentorships are where the mentee is sought by the mentor.  Mentors usually seek out mentees who have characteristics that resonate with them.  The mentor sees promise in the mentee as someone who will help carry on his legacy. 

In situations where mentors are sought, I believe mentees should seek those who have achieved what they desire and envision for themselves.  The mentor should serve as the mentee’s role model for how to obtain this vision. 
I have sought mentors who maintain a work-life balance, are successful both in and out of their careers and those that enjoy fostering deep personal relationships.

What are the pitfalls of having a mentor?
While many physician blogs tout the benefits of having mentors, the disadvantages are often not discussed.  Not every relationship will be as auspicious as the famed Osler-Cushing relationship. 

For instance, I have noticed that mentees are often not as selective as they should be when choosing a mentor.  Many times a mentee will become enamored with a mentor’s positive characteristics, neglecting to see the negative aspects. 

To avoid this common pitfall the mentee should practice mindfulness, continuously filtering both the “good” and “bad” qualities of the mentor.  The mentee should then model and adapt only those traits which are desirable.  Neglecting to do so may be detrimental to the mentee’s professional or even personal life.                

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