February 5, 2021

Louise Jones, PhD, MEd, Director of Research & Scholarly Activity

A formal mentoring relationship provides support for the resident during an intense period of their training and it also provides a legacy moment for the mentor. Mentors take stock of how far they personally have traveled and can use the opportunity to pay it forward. To influence and shape how the next generation of physicians approach academia, teaching, and their attitudes toward medicine as a career is extremely rewarding.

Personally, I think that trying to be successful at a career in medicine and life (whatever that means to you) is almost impossible if you try to do it alone. I know two sisters, already board-certified in their specialties, who seem to take great delight in mentoring their little sister through her residency and fellowship applications – but not everyone has that network. A mentoring relationship where the power is shared with real respect and value for each other (as people and professionals ) is a tremendous asset in navigating the complex waters of residency and beyond.

Mentoring is a win-win for both the mentor and the mentee

Each step in the relationship is a mutual learning experience, where triumphs and challenges can be celebrated, affirmed, and dissected into manageable elements. Mentoring that is mentee-focused, involves a commitment to be available and supportive and to build up rather than tear down.

What is the end goal?

There are two categories for the mentor to consider as goals. Their personal goal in the mentoring relationship and the mentee-owned goals.

“Being critically self‐aware is an acquired skill that comes with experience and great intellect.”

Moran & Dallat (1995)

As the potential mentor reflects on their why, or the meta-purpose of investing time in a resident’s progress, it is vital for them to consider their own motivation, how much of this is about them, and how much is about the resident they will mentor. To me, mentoring is an exercise in getting a fledgling to fly. We all know that the mentor can “fly”, so mentoring isn’t really about that, is it? By guiding someone to “fly” I really mean guiding them toward self-authorship of their own life. You can’t really do that if you hold all the power and build a kind of dependency relationship.

Each mentee comes into the session with a pretty good idea of their strengths and gaps. With the help of a mentor, he/she can develop SMART based goals to work toward. The mentor acts as a sounding board, clarifier, pragmatist, and accountability partner. Ultimately, this relationship should be a place where the resident can safely develop their identity as a competent physician.

Guiding the mentee

Baxter Magdola4 defines self-authorship as “the internal capacity to define one’s beliefs, identity and social relations” (p.269).

Of course, some folks never make it to this level of actualization. I think it’s critical for a physician to get there however because there is so much pressure on residents to serve, to cure, to lead, to know…

In my mind, the primary end-goal of a mentoring relationship is to guide the mentee toward learning to trust their own internal compass or voice. Learning to control their approach and response to events will allow the resident space to build a personal philosophy. The ability to live authentically as themselves rather than feeling external pressure to project an external “face” is a fantastic goal.

“There comes that mysterious meeting in life when someone acknowledges who we are and what we can be, igniting the circuits of our highest potential.”

Rusty Berkus

Check back here next week as we share the responsibilities of mentoring and getting started! To learn more about NGMC GME programs, visit ngmcgme.org