Mentoring — A Mentor's View

Mary Klotman, M.D.
Professor of Medicine, Chief of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine

Mentoring is an Ongoing Activity that takes constant communication, both formal and informal.

Providing a role model for students about why you chose your career and why you love it can be very impactful.

Helping trainees and junior faculty negotiate the less than perfect academic environment: Perhaps they were told they weren't allowed to present data at a meeting or to be first author for a paper until they reached a certain level. You can challenge these unwritten rigid rules and suggest non-confrontational approaches for dealing with them. Direct them to rules of governance, e.g. the Faculty Handbook for guidelines on authorship.

A commitment is needed on both mentor's and mentee's parts but needs and results are highly diverse.

  • In research mentoring can begin with the first request for help, through formulating a question, developing ideas, creating a project, and writing a grant. It can easily take one year of weekly meetings.
  • For a medical student, it may contribute to specialty area choice insights.
  • For a college student, it may help indecision of science or medicine.
  • For faculty member mentoring can help in advancement in a timely fashion.

Sometimes the advice requires assessment with unpleasant decisions for both you and your mentee. Of key importance are the values of your or their chair/boss about mentoring and anything else that you strongly value. If values are not aligned, ultimately you won't be happy. Leaving is always an option

Mentoring Rewards

When the mentoring relationship is effective, there are also opportunities for productive collaborations and expanding programs by dovetailing interests over time. Mentoring should be mutually beneficial.

An additional benefit to the mentor may come from having demonstrated mentoring activity. For example, training grants require a list of trainees to establish a track record of the faculty. Keep an accurate list of each individual mentored and follow-up after 2, 5, or 10 years to see what they have accomplished. Their career successes are also your own.

Mentoring Faculty to Mentor

As you move up in administration and become senior faculty/chiefs/chairman, you can have a larger impact than the one-on-one mentor:mentee. Usually there are many more junior faculty who need mentoring than senior faculty to provide it. Unfortunately, many senior faculty mentor like they were mentored, which is not good enough. Poor mentors may also be insecure in their own career and feel too threatened to help a junior faculty thrive. A chair who values mentoring will develop division chiefs who in turn can mentor their faculty.

For a division chief to mentor senior faculty requires asking questions to develop the mentor role, such as: How often do you meet? What milestones did you identify? What kind of feedback did you give the mentee?

Evaluate the success of mentoring by asking junior faculty specific questions, e.g., Who helped you? What was their role? Whose idea was it? Did they read the grant? How often and how long did you meet?

Division chiefs may set the priorities for mentoring medical students, residents, fellows and clinical faculty. Scientists in the lab can be very effective in helping clinically based faculty to apply for grants or get the foot in the door on programs.

In the future we hope that Medical Schools can build mentoring into the incentive program with specific criteria for mentoring just like for productivity with published articles and grants. We can help this by documenting how the investment of time leads to financial pay-offs.

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