We spend a significant amount of time focusing on the mentee-mentor relationship within academic surgery. This focus is justified considering the relationship is often forged during the fires of our surgical training and provides us with guidance and unrivaled altruism that defines our early career paths. While many of us have surgeons we look to as role models and whose practices and habits we strive to emulate in our day-to-day lives, mentors transcend the limits of professional boundaries. Mentors and mentees are often trusted confidants and share a genuine interest in each other that includes advice and coaching that extend beyond the walls of the operating room. While there are several previous blog posts related to fostering this relationship1 and finding a mentor,2 I wish to explore the personal side of the relationship and the need to maintain the bond long after the formal exchanges end.
For most mentors the privilege of playing an integral role in the development and maturation of the mentee is the key reward and sole form payment. The accomplishments of mentees, whose growth and development continues after any formal relations end, are often the source of celebration and joy on the part of the mentor. To that end, mentors are invested in the continued growth and maturation of the mentees. Hearing from mentees after the formal exchanges end is a reminder of the impact the mentor has had in the profession and in the lives of others. It is the most valuable form of a return on investment. This reward system is bidirectional and there is nothing more appealing for the mentee than to make his/her mentor proud.
For mentors and mentees who become a part of our life beyond medicine we often have the privilege of getting to know significant others, children, family, pets, hobbies, etc. For many mentees in training and research years, mentors are often around during an exciting time of life that can include marriage, the birth of children, and major moves to new cities. Similarly, mentors are also there to guide us during challenging times such as the loss of a parent or major family stress. Mentors can serve as a human anchor needed when in the midst of challenging and formative training years while still providing the surgical and career perspective that other family and friends cannot.
Beyond personal satisfaction, maintaining these relations are of critical importance in our professional careers. As academic surgeons in pursuit of advancement and promotion, we maintain up to date curriculum vitae and dossier documents that address our tripartite mission. A track record of successful clinical, research, or education mentorship speaks volumes about an individual’s commitment to an institution or field. Having an updated section describing the current positions and accomplishments of previous mentees is an important factor when considering promotion. Some institutions allow for letters from previous trainees/mentees to be included within some sections of the promotion application.
By maintaining contact, mentors can continue to facilitate opportunities for growth and development of former mentees. Committee appointments for national societies and nominations for early career awards are just some small ways in which mentors may continue to promote mentees. As surgery becomes specialized and sub-specialized, it is the personal relationships and conversations among life-long colleagues and friends where recommendations are made and mentees can be introduced to key contacts and leaders. It is through these types of informal connections that new relationships are born. These relationships may develop into early career opportunities for the mentee. We are fortunate to have professional organizations such as the AAS, SUS, and specialty specific associations to help maintain these relations.
The long and short of it is to keep in touch. Find time at the next academic meeting to grab dinner/coffee/cocktails. No matter what your current station is in life or within our profession, we all have mentors that meant a great deal to us at some point. For some, you may have continued that relationship but, for most, surgery life becomes busy and perhaps some time has passed since we last heard from our mentors. If it has been a while, take a moment to drop a line or phone home – I am sure your mentors will be glad to hear from you.
- Carchman and Rademacher. The development of a successful mentor/mentee relationship in the general surgery research years. Available at: https://www.aasurg.org/blog/development-successful-mentormentee-relationship-general-surgery-research-years/. Last accessed 04/18/19.
- Funk. Finding Your Primary Mentor. Available at: https://www.aasurg.org/blog/finding-your-primary-mentor/. Last accessed 04/18/19.