“You thought your quality improvement project was bad? Talk to Frodo!” Dr. Arora quipped. “Support, empathy, easing the pain; these are very different mentoring functions than the technical quality of doing a project, or being capable.”
Comparing mentors to superheroes utilizing the acronym CAPE, Dr. Arora boiled it down to the qualities mentees should look for in their mentors:
- Capable: “If the mentor is not capable, they are not going to be a good mentor,” she said. “This is important; not everyone is capable of being a good mentor.”
- Available: “It’s easy to walk away from a project. A good mentor stays with you, show you how it works, and inspires you to work harder.”
- Project (or Passion): “You want to have a mentor who is going to teach you something you are interested in; otherwise you are not going to want to learn, and there is no inspiration.”
- Empathetic: “They must be empathetic, easy to get along with, able to ease the pain.”
Dr. Arora and her colleague, Valerie Press, MD, MPH, role-played a number of scenarios in which young hospitalists and trainees err in their relationships with mentors. These ranged from the dreaded “pop-in meeting” to e-mail etiquette to last-minute requests to review a CV or poster.
The scenarios rang true with Brandon Mauldin, MD, a third-year resident at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans.
“I learned the errors of how I’ve approached my mentors in the past. I think I have been guilty of every one of the points she made,” said Dr. Mauldin, who attended the session to glean tips as he prepares for a career as an academic hospitalist. “Maybe not as much the drop-in meetings, but definitely the last-minute, ‘Hey, I have this poster due tomorrow. Can you help me edit it?’”
Dr. Mauldin’s mentor at Tulane, Deepa Bhatnagar, MD, also attended the session. In her fourth year as an academic hospitalist, Dr. Bhatnagar said she gleaned the most practical information from Dr. Arora’s final scenario, which focused on mentees doing their homework before selecting a mentor or joining a research project.
“Do not sign on the dotted line without consultation. Right? Do not buy a car without doing your homework,” Dr. Arora said. “Mentors want free labor, so beware.”
Dr. Arora said mentees should set reasonable expectations and focus broadly in selecting projects, as they “have their whole career to do the project you love; right now, do the project that works.” It was a tip that stuck.
“The successful project is a good takeaway: Find your interest, find a good mentor, but find a good project,” Dr. Bhatnagar said. “It’s better to zone in on a successful project, instead of taking on a project that might not be successful for you.”
Richard Quinn is a freelance writer in New Jersey.