Guidance for Mentors

Passing on knowledge, skills and behaviors to others is one of the true joys of academic life. Mentorship can be formal or informal, shared or individual, short-term or life-long. You can be coach, counselor or sponsor, or combinations of these. But it is always a deeply rewarding experience that should be expected of all faculty in academic medicine.

Effective mentoring requires a set of skills that are improved by practice and self-reflection. Look for opportunities to mentor and look for opportunities to enhance your mentoring skills. Reflect on your progress as a mentor. Adopt, adapt and improve.

Characteristics of Effective Mentors

Good communication is essential, both in what you say and in what you hear. Effective mentors are good listeners—good listening is key to understanding and knowing your mentees.

Set expectations and hold high standards. Both mentor and mentee should establish their mutual expectations early in the relationship and hold each other accountable. You should define your role as a mentor and your mentee should define their goals and objectives.

Provide constructive and objective feedback. Engage your mentees in solving their questions or problems. Ask for feedback from your mentees.

Be honest, professional, and ethical in all your interactions with your mentees. Be a role model: keep your word and maintain confidentiality. Be aware of potential conflicts of interest, particularly when mentoring individuals you supervise.

Be accessible and available. Maintain regular contact with your mentees (determine who is responsible for setting meetings); respond promptly to their questions and requests. Do not promise support that you cannot provide.

Respect individuals and build trust. Become aware of your prejudices, unconscious biases, and personal perspectives, particularly when mentoring across gender, racial or cultural differences.

Support the professional development of your mentees. Foster their independence; help them set career goals; sponsor them for opportunities that will advance their careers.

How Can I Become a More Effective Mentor?

This page provides a starting guide to effective mentoring. Review the principles described here. Register for a Mentor Orientation or Mentoring Workshop; look for a colleague who can mentor you in the art of mentoring. Read the articles and refer to the resources listed below.

Resources

Mentoring: what's in a name? Sambunjak D, Marusić A. JAMA 302: 2591–2 (2009). Journal link; PMID: 20009061
An excellent, brief definition of mentoring: includes the division of mentoring into education (coaching), personal (counseling) and professional (sponsorship).

Academic Mentoring—How to Give It and How to Get It. Detsky AS, Baerlocher MO. JAMA 297: 2134–6 (2007). Journal link; PMID: 17507350
Succinct guidance for both mentors & mentees.

Nature’s guide for mentors. Lee A, Dennis C, Campbell P. 2007. Nature 447: 791–797 (2007). Journal link; PMID: 17568738
Characteristics of effective mentors drawn from nominations for the Nature Awards for Mentoring in Science; also includes a self-assessment for evaluating your own mentoring abilities.

Optimizing the Practice of Mentoring: An Online Curriculum for the Professional Development of Research Mentors.
Online course (link) on the skills and tools necessary to form effective mentoring relationships: although targeted to research mentors, the material is of use to mentors of all types.

A research mentor training curriculum for clinical and translational researchers. Pfund C, House S, Spencer K, Asquith P, Carney P, Masters KS, McGee R, Shanedling J, Vecchiarelli S, Fleming M. Clin Transl Sci 6:26–33 (2013). Journal link; PMID: 23399086
Description and preliminary evaluation of a mentoring curriculum for research. The complete curriculum is available online here.

The Mentoring Competency Assessment: validation of a new instrument to evaluate skills of research mentors. Fleming M, House S, Hanson VS, Yu L, Garbutt J, McGee R, Kroenke K, Abedin Z, Rubio DM. Acad Med 88: 1002–8 (2013). Journal link; PMID: 23702534
The assessment measures mentoring competencies in six areas: the instrument is available online here.