As you move forward in your career, you can’t help but notice the importance of mentorship. Finding the right mentorship is key to a successful career. Oftentimes, you will have multiple mentors, not just one. Having a good mentor can certainly enhance your success.
Mentorship is needed at all stages of your professional growth. When you are a medical student, you are looking for mentors who help you decide what kind of doctor you want to be. You look for the personalities, career options and lifestyle that you best adhere to. When you are a resident or fellow, you are looking for mentors who help fine-tune your career world view. You have chosen your career path, now how can you make the most of it. It’s not just choosing the profession. Now you need to decide where you will work. What environment? What do you want in a job? How do you make that happen? As a junior faculty, you are carving out your career niche. How do you build and solidify your reputation? Both at your institution and within the surgical community. Mentors help in all these levels.
Mentorship comes at all different levels. Mentorship can be from peers who are working through similar challenges and are at a similar level of development. You will also find mentors in those a few years ahead of you (senior residents, junior faculty, etc.). These mentors have recently experienced your challenges. They remember the process (residency applications, job applications, your first research grant). There are also classic senior mentors. They have been through it all and can see things from a different perspective. They have connections with faculty and surgeons from all over. They are great for more national and global connections. Also, if they have been at your institution for a while, they will have a solid reputation.
Mentorship is important in multiple domains. Clinical mentorship can help you work through complex, challenging clinical scenarios. Sometimes, it’s nice to have someone to discuss a case with. It’s also nice to know that you have support, especially in your early years, with technically difficult cases. Research mentors can help you start up your research career, developing good questions and hypotheses, and write research grants. Career mentorship helps you look forward, to the future and guide your pathway to become the surgeon and professional that you want to be.
There is a practical side to mentorship. Mentors are letter-writers. Mentors will write letters for research grants, job applications, and when you go up for promotion. However, be forewarned that you will write the letter. The mentor will (hopefully) review what you have written before signing it. In addition to your mentors, you will need to routinely get letters from your department chair and senior faculty. So take time to cultivate these senior faculty members.
What makes a good mentor and how do you find good mentors? Some of this comes naturally. There are certain people that you encounter and mesh with quite naturally. Other times, you must more aggressively seek out mentorship. Reach out and contact people, physicians – surgeons with similar interests. It’s a great way to find out if they are the mentor for you. If they don’t respond (or respond poorly), it’s a sign that this may not be the mentor you are looking for. If you meet up and there‘s a connection, then great!
Finally, when all is said and done, it is not enough to know what you look for in a mentor. You also need to know how to be a good mentor. Reflect on the good and bad experiences you’ve had with your mentors. Aim to model the good behaviors and minimize the bad. Sometimes just taking the time to listen and respond can make all the difference.