As you begin the next phase in your career, whether starting residency, a fellowship, or a new faculty position, it’s likely you have dozens of questions. How do I survive the rigors of residency? What do I need to make the most of my fellowship? What do I need to do to become more efficient in my clinical productivity? How do I succeed in academics? There are many more questions we could add to this list.
While some lessons in life are learned through trial and error, it rarely is the best way. This is especially true when considering your professional future. An essential first step at any phase in your career is finding yourself a mentor. There are many benefits to having someone help you navigate through many of the challenges you will face. A mentor’s experience is invaluable in avoiding potential pitfalls that set many physicians back in their careers, and in giving you the best opportunity to succeed as you begin your desired path.
This might seem like a new idea, but the concept of mentoring has been around for centuries. All of us have been mentored at some point in our lives; you probably just haven’t realized it. It could have been a parent, coach, guidance counselor, or teacher. Mentorship is a mutually beneficial relationship that applies to many areas of life, including your career development in medicine.
Finding a mentor is easier said than done. Many physicians are not sure where to begin. How do you choose? Where do you start? These are common questions, among many others. Some institutions assign mentors for this very reason. However, this is not always an ideal solution, as the mentor/mentee relationship might not be a perfect match.
Here are some ideas to help get you started in your mentor search:
1) Know Thyself: As you begin your search, start by reflecting on yourself. What do you need? What are your current skills? What are your career aspirations? This initial step of introspection is essential in becoming more aware of your own mentoring needs. The more specific you can be in defining your needs and goals, the better equipped you will be to seek out someone who can help guide you on the path to achieve them.
2) Know What to Look for: Having established what you are looking for as a mentee, it is important to consider what makes for a good mentor. A good mentor is experienced, successful, and has the proper skill sets, but also should have the following basic qualities:
- A willingness to mentor. They should want to invest in you and be interested in your career success;
- A commitment to the mentoring relationship. They will spend the time, energy, and resources necessary to help you achieve your goals;
- Availability. They must not be too busy with other responsibilities or other mentees;
- Good communications skills. They need to be a sounding board, and provide honest and constructive advice that is specific to your needs; and
- Professionalism. You should trust them to maintain confidentiality.
3) Start the Search: Now that you understand your needs and the desired qualities in a mentor, start thinking about potential options. You might already have someone in mind based on his or her success or reputation as a mentor. However, by asking around, you might also find other, lesser-known mentors that might be an even better fit for you in the long run.
Don’t limit yourself to your current institution. You might find that the mentors you are looking for are at other institutions. These opportunities are usually found through networking, either through local channels or through regional/national meetings. Although these kinds of mentorship relationships are more difficult to initiate and maintain, the opportunity to collaborate among members at various institutions can end up being more fruitful in the long term.
4) Meet and Greet: After assembling a short list of potential mentors, schedule a meeting with each of them. This may be cumbersome at first, but it is essential in finding out if this is someone you can see working with and learning from over the next few months or years. Finding this natural “fit” is what helps make for a lasting relationship.
At the same time, think of the meetings as interviews for a “position,” which is important to your future. This is the time for communicating your intentions, for making mutual expectations clear, and refining them further. Keep your professional goals in mind, as this will help in narrowing down your list.
5) One Size Does Not Fit All: As you consider potential mentors, keep in mind that it is OK to branch out. You might have many areas (research, education, quality improvement, work-life balance, leadership, clinical productivity, etc.) of interest that need mentoring. One mentor is unlikely to be able to meet all of your needs. This is where developing a core group of mentors could be helpful, each providing their unique insight.
Once you find a good mentor, remember to value their time and respect their expectations for you as a mentee. You are to be as committed to the partnership as you expect them to be. As you develop this mentorship, you will realize that it can become more than a professional relationship—it also can become a lasting alliance that strengthens with time. TH
Dr. LaBrin is an academic hospitalist at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn.