The benefits of physician mentorship

By Samar Mahmoud, MS
Published January 4, 2022

Key Takeaways

In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus’ trusted friend Mentor serves as an advisor and a teacher to Telemachus, Odysseus’ son, during his father’s absence. While medical practice can feel like an epic Odyssey at times, modern mentorship can provide invaluable benefits. 

Doctors with successful and satisfying careers often credit their mentors with helping them achieve their goals. This is not a surprise, as mentors provide invaluable guidance and advice, facilitate decision making, and aid mentees in professional and personal development goals. 

Let’s look at some of the ways that mentors positively impact their mentees' lives. 

The value of HCP mentorship

Today, the medical training environment is vastly different from what it was just a few years ago. Medical trainees face extreme work schedules and large patient volumes, with the added difficulty of being trained during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s no wonder that doctors now face unprecedented challenges limiting their ability to practice medicine. 

These challenges often leave little room for doctors to build and maintain relationships, including making time to develop strong mentor-mentee relationships. However, there are serious consequences to this imbalance, with feelings of burnout and exhaustion rampant in the medical field. 

Attempts to restore balance have to start with improving the well-being of the medical workforce. For trainees, that means identifying mentors who can provide them with balance and perspective. After all, the benefits of mentorship are clear: Doctors with mentors are more productive, experience less burnout, make informed career decisions, and have an overall enhanced sense of well-being than doctors without mentors. 

In addition, organizations that champion mentorship are often more inclusive and more diverse than those without a culture of mentorship. This is especially true for trainees coming from under-represented backgrounds who often struggle with feelings of acceptance in the medical field. For these students, a mentor can be critical in preventing burnout and increasing retention.

So, how do you find a mentor and what should you look for in a mentor-mentee relationship? 

Finding a mentor

Physicians should start looking for mentors early on in their medical training, according to an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). This will ensure trainees have access to someone who can serve as both a resource as well as an advocate at the beginning of their career.

In many cases, medical schools offer formal mentoring programs that aim to provide career counseling and foster professional and personal growth. However, when no formal mentoring program exists, trainees can take matters into their own hands and actively reach out to potential mentors. 

Mentors can be anyone ranging from a faculty member at the school, a visiting lecturer, or even an author of a journal article that piqued an interest. Trainees can also consider contacting state medical societies for suggestions about potential mentors. 

When looking for a mentor, consider physicians who have similar interests as well as a diverse background. It is imperative to find a mentor who is knowledgeable in the areas you are most interested in to best support your professional development. 

Once you have singled out a potential advisor, ask the person directly if they would be willing to mentor you. Make sure to set clear expectations for your mentoring relationship early on. Discuss expectations, including how often you will meet, as well as goals. Be clear about your career interests and any big picture goals you might have. 

“Most of us benefit from having at least a few mentors—a clinical mentor, a research mentor, and an overall career mentor,” said Dominique Cosco, MD, program director for the Internal Medicine Residency program at Washington University, in the NEJM article. “They don’t all have to be in your field. I think it’s helpful to have a personal mentor, too, someone you bond with who’ll check in and ask you how you’re doing and whether you’re getting enough sleep.”

How can you start mentoring? 

Mentoring a young physician is a mutually beneficial relationship. It can empower both mentees and mentors. Being a mentor allows you to expand your network and make connections that can inspire future collaborations. Mentees can also help keep you aware of new research and novel techniques. Finally, mentorship can bring mentors a sense of satisfaction when seeing mentees succeed and accomplish their goals. 

Many hospitals and other organizations have programs already in place to pair a senior physician with a doctor who is just starting out. If you are interested in mentoring other physicians, this is a good place to begin. 

If a formal program does not exist in your organization, there are other ways to become involved. For example, you can volunteer as a mentor with the American Medical Student Association or get involved with the American Medical Association’s Doctors Back to School program, which aims to increase the number of minority physicians. 

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