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Finding a Mentor

Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction. - John Crosby

What is mentorship? | What is the purpose of a mentor or a mentorship? | What are the benefits of mentorship? | Are there any potential limitations or disadvantages to mentorship? | Styles of mentoring | Finding a mentor | Ideal qualities in a mentor | What can you expect from a mentor? | How to start a mentorship relationship | Maintaining the mentor relationship | Dos and Don'ts of being a mentee | Final Word

What is mentorship? Everything ever written about mentoring begins with its ancient definition: The term ‘‘mentoring’’ originates from the Greek language and literally translates to ‘‘enduring’’. Greek mythology holds that before setting out on an epic voyage, Odysseus entrusted his son Telemachus to the care and direction of his old and trusted friend, Mentor, who was renowned as a wise counsellor. Perhaps a more practical, working definition for medical students would include the following components: The process whereby an experienced, highly regarded, empathic person (the mentor) guides another usually younger individual (the mentee) in the development and re-examination of their own ideas, learning and teaching, personal or professional development and socialisation within the profession outside of any particular institutional or curricular goals. What is the purpose of a mentor or a mentorship? Studies surveying medical students show that 90-95% rate mentoring as important or very important, or are very interested in pursuing some form of informal or formal mentoring relationship., That said, studies also show that less than one third of medical students in the US have a mentor. This is probably for a number of reasons, but includes: reduced exposure to senior colleagues in the earlier years of medical courses, limited exposure to senior colleagues in informal settings and perhaps most importantly, the apprehension associated with approaching a senior colleague to be a 'mentor'., There's a good chance that sometime in your life already, you have been mentored formally or informally through a particular aspect of your schooling or work, or perhaps life in general.   What are the benefits of mentorship? To the mentee There are endless benefits to forming such a relationship which may last years, no matter what your original reasons for searching out a mentor. Mentorships:

  • Provide you with an opportunity to interact with senior colleagues
  • Expose you to people who are inspiring and motivating
  • Give you a chance to learn about the environment you will enter into the future (clinical/research)
  • Allow you to obtain career guidance in the short and long term
  • Foster interest and involvement in mutually beneficial research projects
  • Introduce you to academic and clinical networking opportunities

Develop a long term friendship, confidante and partnership To the mentor Whilst at least initially mentorship can be seen as a one-sided relationship in that there exists a clear direction of advice asnd counsel from the mentor to the mentee, the best mentorships often provide some, if not significant value to the mentor through personal reflection and satisfaction.  There is little doubt that the task of being a mentor is a selfless one.  However, the involvement in the journey of a likeminded junior colleague is often a source of significant satisfaction and the shared experiences during the interaction often lead to mutual knowledge exchange and rejuvenation. In medicine, it appears, many mentors have had positive experiences as a mentee and recognise its benefits, and thus acknowledge the importance of giving back to the next generation. To the profession Perhaps impossible to quantify, there are theoretical benefits to improving vertical integration within a field such as medicine which operates within teams and through hierarchical training systems.  The personal and professional communication opportunities that mentorship fosters across generations can only lead to harmony within teams and clinical environments. Are there any potential limitations or disadvantages to mentorship? The only disadvantages or limitations of mentorship occur in an unsuccessful mentorship - at the very worst you will have made a new acquaintance! Styles of mentoring Mentoring has been described as a relationship rather than a list of activities.  The relationship may occur as part of an established scheme and involve more formal commitments and activities.  Alternatively, the relationship may be personally arranged and be far more informal.  Mentorship may take the form of emails and phone calls, or meetings and catch ups once a week or once a month; whatever you choose. Each mentoring relationship is different and there is no set recipe for producing a 'mentor relationship'. Finding a mentor Finding a mentor is not an easy process - they rarely appear and say 'I want to be your mentor'.  Enrolling in mentorship schemes whereby you are matched by interests and personality traits is one way forward.  The pairing of two strangers, however, appears to have mixed success, but perhaps in the early stages of training this is a nice way to get some experience in a mentoring relationship and exposure to the sort of mentor(s) you'd like in future years.   In more senior years, and particularly with the terms in the hospital, you are exposed to people whom you respect and admire, and from there, a relationship can begin.  These people can be consultants on ward rounds, preceptors, research supervisors, bedside tutors, lecturers, other members of faculty,or someone who took an interest in your learning and helped you through a concept...any of these things can act as a stimulus for exploring a mentorship relationship.  Finding a mentor may require some perseverance and persistence - mentoring is a two way relationship and you need to find someone who is not just able to partake and go through the motions, but who is enthusiastic about doing so.  At times, a student's mentoring needs may not be filled by just one mentor and often students seek more than one to provide guidance in different areas. Ideal qualities in a mentor There is no 'shopping list' for a mentor's ideal qualities - what one person seeks in a mentor may be vastly different from another.  In broad terms, the following qualities make for excellent mentors:

  • Experience at being a mentor or having been a mentee
  • Approachable, accessible and available - having the head of a unit as a mentor is fantastic, but if you only see them once a year, it's not really mentorship
  • Proactiveand encouraging of the relationship - whilst often mentors will be busy, one that actively takes an interest in a mentee's situation is far more preferable
  • Supportive, yet able to provide critical reflection - a mentor who can be honest in their advice, not just tell you what you want to hear, and isable to analyse your strengths and weaknesses objectively
  • Willingnessto promote you and the work you do - not someone who will take credit for your work
  • Senior, well respected and knowledgeable in their field
  • Reliable- a mentor who will be there during both the good and the tough times is important

  What can you expect from a mentor? As mentioned, mentoring can take many forms and styles and so the expectations you have from each relationship will be different.  The best mentors are ones that take a keen, and most importantly, active interest in your academic, clinical, research and/or personal life – in whichever of the reasons you have sought their guidance.  Many have described the mentor as an 'academic parent' - one who can recognise your potential and assists you in achieving it.  In the research field, a mentor can assist by asking you to co-author material, help write invited reviews with them, organise collaborations, and write letters of support.  In the clinical arena, a mentor may take an interest in your exam revision, or further down the track, assist you in making career path decisions, suggest places for residency or fellowship andorganise introductions to fellow staff on your behalf. When times are tough, a mentor can provide the support and counsel from the view of someone who has been through similar experiences.  The best mentors will feel comfortable sharing their own personal experiences and struggles when relevant to current situations. How to start a mentorship relationship Mentees often have a variety of goals which may be broad (become a successful doctor), specific (pass my biochem test), medically related (become better at clinical examination), work-habit related (improve time management), or personal (maintaining balance outside of medicine).  Discussing these goals early on and regularly thereafter is important when creating a strong foundation for the relationship.  Establishing methods of communication, frequency and length of interactions and discussing each other's expectations of a 'solid relationship' are also important. Expressing your genuine gratitude and enthusiasm is vital. Maintaining the mentor relationship Like any relationship, there is a need for both parties to work at it, but as the mentee the onus should really be on you.  By taking a proactive role in the relationship you are demonstrating the value you see in your mentor's time and effort.  Sharing experiences and important milestones are vital in maintaining a relationship - if a mentor is only sought 'when needed' there is the potential for them to feel 'unwanted'.  A word that is often thrown around in the mentoring relationship is 'chemistry' - maintaining regular contact, even when both are busy is vital to keeping the relationship healthy.  Mentors should expect that mentees are punctual, meet deadlines and follow through on commitments.  Making goals and agendas for each meeting are a good way to show that you value your interaction with your mentor.  Remember that much like teaching in clinical medicine - often it is expected that you just 'know how to do it' cognoscente of this - you may be this person's first mentee. Dos and Don'ts of being a mentee

Be punctualAvoid decisions
Follow throughRely excessively on mentor
Set agendasAcquiesce
CommunicateOver idealise
Accept critiqueOver communicate
Convey respect 
Accept challenge 
Show appreciation 

Final Word

Mentorship – regardless of its initial goals – can lead to opportunities and experiences you cannot begin to imagine.  Take your first steps today and look for a potential mentor – you will not regret it.

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