Being a Mentor

Published on: Jul 16, 2018


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.”

- modern version of the Hippocratic oath written in 1964 by Louis Lasagna, Academic Dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts University, used in many medical schools today.

Anyone who has enjoyed the experience of being coached by a sympathetic and knowledgeable mentor knows how special the mentor-mentee relationship is and, when it works well, highly beneficial to both parties. There are many powerful reasons to become a mentor.

The main attraction is, of course, helping others just starting out in their careers to excel. Sharing the knowledge you have picked up during your own path can give meaning to your own career trajectory, your self-worth and the value you derive from your job. The mentoring relationship also has an important role to play in mitigating the causes and effects of physician burnout for both parties.

Mentoring holds a special attraction for women and minorities who have advanced in their own careers because they can help promote greater diversity in the medical field by helping young people overcome the challenges they themselves faced.

A good mentor-mentee relationship also provides a valuable opportunity for reverse mentoring; helping the more experienced physician to stay in touch with current thinking and language, discuss new trends in technologies and processes, as well as to build and maintain relationships with the younger generations entering the profession.

The Qualities of a Good Mentor

Physicians who have risen to the top of their institution or area of clinical expertise will undoubtedly attract a fair number of younger interns and physicians who would like to be mentored by them. This is no guarantee, however, that the physician will make a good mentor.

The characteristics of a physician plays a significant role in determining the success of a mentor-mentee relationship than the reputation of the mentor.

Having an open mind and a willingness to help others succeed are essential characteristics for any mentor. The ability to build a good rapport with students and junior members of staff is also important.

Time management can also be critical, mentors need to be available to their mentee. It can work well if both parties are able to make regular time to meet, listen and talk through their concerns away from the workplace. It is ideal if you can make this a regular occasion; for example, lunch on the first Friday of every month. While making the time might seem like a challenge in an already over-stretched schedule, the benefits that mentoring offers makes finding time well worth the effort.

Mentoring and Diversity

The mentor relationship offers more than straight-forward technical, clinical and career guidance. Mentors have an important role to play in offering emotional support and guidance.

This is certainly true when race and gender come into play. As we’ve already noted, mentoring has an important role to play in promoting diversity in medicine.

Physicians have to cope with many stressors. Learning to face down racism and/or sexism on top of the other challenges of the job can exacerbate feelings of physician burnout. The support and guidance of a senior staff member who understands these additional challenges can be critical for young medical students.

Writing in STAT, Jennifer Adaeze Okwerekwu relates the story of the racism she experienced during her medical practice. She cites Dr. Sue Taylor, a former medical director of palliative care for Tucson Medical Center in Arizona, who made the point, “if students targeted by racial aggression don’t see their mentors actively moving to curb racism, that sends a powerful message”.

Corporate civility coach, Sue Jacques, suggests that mentors should prepare themselves by creating a guiding set of principles that summarize how you will treat others and how you expect to be treated yourself. She says pre-determining these standards will help you deal with awkward experiences with grace.

Tips for Mentoring Success

Being a mentor requires you to exemplify model behavior and make good choices, Jacques states. Showing leadership and acting as a role model at all times is part and part of a senior physician’s lot. Emotional capacity is also important to the success of the mentoring relationship. A study by Dunn and colleagues identifies self-disclosure as an important attribute within the relationship.

Perhaps the most important tip for a successful mentoring relationship is to talk about both parties’ expectations of the mentoring relationship from the start. Don’t overcommit or set unrealistic expectations; be open about what you both are able to commit to.

A mentor’s role is to encourage self-empowerment. Depending on which stage a mentee is in their career, the mentor may have a huge potential impact on the development and trajectory of the mentee’s career plans. The mentor’s job is never to direct but to listen, share their experiences, talk through the options and suggest possibilities, never forgetting that ultimately the mentee has to be responsible for their own career.

Finding a Mentee

Senior physicians at the top of their fields may find themselves approached to be a mentor quite regularly. In these instances, the key to determine who to mentor are those students with whom you have a natural rapport and will be able to create value through your relationship. Some teaching facilities have a program to match interns with senior physicians, so the decision is removed from the physicians’ hands.

If neither of these circumstances apply to you, there are database matching services which can put would-be mentors and mentees in touch with each other. The American College of Physicians (ACP)’s Mentoring Database is a good place to start. The American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) also operates a mentoring database.

If you don’t have time to commit for an extended period, you may wish to consider reaching out to younger generations before they make the educational choices that will help them pursue a career in Medicine. The Doctors Back to School and Mentoring in Medicine programs reach out, particularly to under-represented black and ethnic minority school age kids, to help open their eyes to the possibility of a career in medicine and encourage much-needed diversity in the profession.

To learn more about becoming a mentor visit:




Become a Physician Mentor for Residents, American Medical Women’s Association;

How Mentors Can Help Young Doctors Prevent Burnout, Rosalyn E. Plotzker, MD; March 9, 2017 -

Becoming a Physician Mentor, Sue Jacques; Feb 20, 2013 -

Finding a Mentor in Medicine, AAFP;

What happened when I talked about what others ignore — racism in medicine, Jennifer Adaeze Okwerekwu; April 27, 2016 - Anyone who has enjoyed the experience of being coached by a sympathetic and knowledgeable mentor knows how special the mentor-mentee relationship.