Why mentoring takes a village

One of my many mentors died recently: Will Deal, former dean of UAB School of Medicine, passes away at 76.

I had seen him 6 days before at a restaurant – he seemed in perfect health.  We made lunch plans.

As I have thought about Will over the past 4 days, I thought about mentoring, because he mentored so many people.   I thought about intern applicants who ask about formal mentoring programs, and my career without having a formal mentor, but having so many mentors.  To this day, I still have mentors.

Of course I mentor many others.  What do I mean by all this?

I have disdain for formal mentorship programs, because I believe their existence means that we have potential proteges who do not understand that mentoring takes a village.

Mentoring occurs in bits and pieces with advice coming from many different sources.  My career would never had had the success it has had without me seeking advice from a variety of mentors.

I never have had a formal mentorship relationship.  But I have found many wise people who have offered advice when I ask.  I have a large number of peer mentors.  One of my main mentors is several years younger than me.  We mentor each other – because much mentorship only needs a intelligent welcoming ear.

Sometimes you just need to verbalize a situation.  The act of telling the story to a peer mentor allows one to make a correct decision.

Sometimes you need someone who is looking out for you and helping champion you skills and talents.

In academic medicine all of us at the associate professor and professor level have a responsibility to act as mentors.  We do not need a formal program but rather a mentorship culture.

Fortunate for me Will Deal was one who looked out for me and acted as a trusted source of advice.  I have my current position because of him.  Even though I saw him rarely after he retired from the dean’s position, I valued those meetings.  I will miss him, but I will never forget him.

The most wonderful thing that you can say about anyone is that they made a difference.  Will Deal made a difference.

Robert Centor is an internal medicine physician who blogs at DB’s Medical Rants.


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  • http://twitter.com/mkparker Mary K Parker

    Sometimes drive-by mentoring works the best. It’s amazing how a mentor can suddenly appear when a mental request is made!

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