Over 3,000 years ago, Odysseus entrusted his friend Mentor to educate and guide his son Telemachos when he left to fight in the Trojan War (Homer. Odyssey, Book II). Thus, was the birth of the word ‘mentor,’ which has evolved to mean trusted advisor, friend, teacher, and wise person. I have had the tremendous opportunity to mentor dozens of undergraduate students, medical students, and residents, locally, as well as from a distance. Although I think having the ability to mentor face-to-face is one of the most robust forms of support and guidance, even mentoring from afar (via phone calls, emails, SMS messaging, Facebook) can provide benefit and value.
Mentoring is a supportive process that helps a mentee maximize his or her potential to reach personal and professional goals (Garmel, 2004; Ramanan et al, 2002). Mentoring has been defined as “a process whereby an experienced, highly regarded, empathetic person guides another individual in the development and re-examination of their own ideas, learning, and personal and professional development” (SCOPME, 1998). Mentoring is a relational process focusing on career options and goals, developing career plans, realization of career steps, and evaluation of career advancement (Buddeberg-Fischer et al, 2002, and 2005). Importantly, mentoring also includes helping a mentee cope with stress and establish a satisfying work-life balance (Levy et al, 2004).
As part of my mentoring “duties” (either formally or informally), I have reviewed applications, edited personal statements, taken mentees to breakfast or dinner, conducted mock interviews, discussed work/life balance, conferred about contract negotiations, and reviewed steps to advance careers. I have had several conversations about pregnancy during and after training, and recently helped a mentee negotiate PTO for an upcoming maternity leave. There have been several difficult work/training situations that have been discussed with various mentees, and together, we have developed and worked through various conflict resolutions.
One of the aspects of mentoring that brings me the most joy is hearing about a little (or big) success that a mentee has achieved. I will receive emails, texts, or phone calls from mentees and absolutely love learning what accomplishments they have realized and hearing their enthusiasm! Sometimes, someone will come up to me at a meeting and I do not recognize them at all (because all of our communications were via email or phone calls) and they will thank me for the support. I love learning about where they are in their respective careers (4th year medical student who just matched in orthopaedics, 4th year resident who received their first choice of fellowship, new attending that just passed their oral boards).
Mentored individuals are more likely to earn more money at a younger age, follow a specific career plan, be happier with their career progress, and derive greater pleasure from their work (Roche, 1979). Mentoring is an essential part of medical education that enhances the professional and personal development of future physicians and researchers (Keyser et al, 2008). Women, in particular, have been shown to benefit from structured mentoring programs for their scientific careers (Illes et al, 2000; Fried et al, 1996; Hofmann-Lun I et al, 2000; Mark et al, 2001).
Furthermore, mentoring enhances diversity, which is much-needed within orthopaedics, as we are now the least diverse specialty of all medical fields. Benefits of diversity in any field includes improved productivity, larger pool of talent, better performance, promotion of humanistic values, enhanced communication, increased creativity and problem solving, and reduced absenteeism and turnover rates (Herring, 2009; Forbes 2011; Hong and Page, 2004). In healthcare, diversity enhances patient satisfaction, improves communication, expands equitable care, reduces health disparities, advances cultural sensitivity, increases the number of physicians who provide care to the underserved, and enhances the overall health of the population (Reede, 2003; Cooper et al, 2003; Whitla et al, 2003).
Mentors can foster an interest in a clinical field, provide guidance, help mentees set and attain goals, offer encouragement, support mentees’ academic careers, and increase an interest in research. Mentorship can result in a supportive and mutually rewarding relationship. So, why doesn’t everyone do it??
Well, not everyone can be a good mentor. I have found a select few individuals who have served as my own mentors, and they have certain traits that make them successful in their supportive role. They have a genuine interest in others’ success, an ability to manage competing priorities, have a secure (but not overbearing) ego, and have the ability to derive satisfaction from the success of mentees (Pellegrini, AAOS Mentorship ICL, 2018). I think of this as the ‘Shalane Flanagan Effect.’ For those that might not know her, she is an incredible American long-distance runner, holding many records and medaling at the 2008 Olympics. She describes how supporting (or mentoring) others can serve as a rocket booster for them while simultaneously catapulting herself forward. The success of others will truly ‘boost’ the mentor as well, even if simply by the innate reward of observing mentees achieve their goals and dreams, but also by truly enhancing her own individual career trajectory.
It is a privilege to serve as a mentor for others and I am truly grateful for the opportunity. As I continue to refine my own mentoring ‘technique’ and ‘style,’ I welcome the guidance of others’ expertise and mentorship for myself. I hope to encourage others to take up the mantel of mentorship, thus providing opportunities for new relationships and partnerships, and overall enhancing the incredible field of orthopaedics.
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