Mentorship. We all do it; we all benefit from it. But we rarely talk about how the mentor-mentee relationship looks. We rarely talk about ways to improve a mentorship relationship or even have decent mentor-mentee relationships. In fact, many of us likely get into medicine because we want to help patients, but forget how important mentorship often is on our way to learning to achieve such a goal.
Here are 5 ways to have an outstanding mentorship relationship:
1. A commitment to setting a good example. Mentors should be prepared to try to set good examples for mentees consistently. Meeting deadlines, caring behavior, competence and confidence in caring for patients, and always being one’s best self are excellent ways to be a good example.
Commonly, mentors are the people who mentees pattern themselves after, for better or worse —it is inevitably a two-way street.
I have found myself, as the mentee, being a good example of what good care looks like since I am less burnt out, tired, and overworked than my mentors commonly are. Mentees are young and thirsty for knowledge and experience, and that zeal is always something mentors can learn for. Understanding the value of setting a good example as well as consistently expecting each person in the mentor-mentee relationship to set a good example is invaluable.
2. Humility. As a mentor, it can be easy to forget when you don’t know something. In fact, I frequently argue that medical education and training are so traumatic that they promote forgetting the trauma of learning something new. However, remembering that at some point, something didn’t occur to us and humbling ourselves as mentors is important so that a mentee can come to you with questions and expect to feel listened to and cared for.
Mentees often approach the situation with humility — it’s their job to humble themselves before the mentor to know that they have room for growth, and they are specifically looking for that growth in the mentoring relationship. Yet, mentees should continue to stay humble as they grow in that relationship. Promoting humility in the relationship on both ends and both parties meeting the situation with humility will continue to foster this humility in the relationship.
3. Mutual respect. Many people can be liked and valued. But the people that I wanted to be mentored by were people whose work and personalities I respected. When meeting with new people, I respected them more when they showed interest in me and my work as well as what I had to bring to the table. A cornerstone of being an excellent mentor should be respecting what your mentee offers — and everyone brings something to the table. Mentees commonly bring enthusiasm and zeal for life and for the field that the mentor might have forgotten they had in the first place.
This refreshing and replenishing presence by itself might be enough to help get the mentor even in challenging spaces. Mentors also bring experience and expertise in their field of study.
Passing on this invaluable knowledge to a mentee is clearly one of the cornerstones of the relationship. However, respecting that both parties play a role in bringing something unique to the relationship elevates this mentorship so that it can go beyond what is commonly expected of it.
4. Love and understanding. It can be awkward to think that the best way to care for a mentee is through love and understanding. In the mentorship relationships that I have had both as a mentor and as a mentee, the mentor and I always prospered most when we met each other with love.
They loved me enough to be honest with me about my successes as well as my shortcomings. They loved me enough to point out deficits, but also strategize with me on how to improve on those deficits. They loved me enough to ask about my family and my personal life, understanding that my happiness, health, and safety are all inherently intertwined in the ability to perform in my professional role. There was also always an air of understanding.
There will always be shortcomings, and there will always be successes. Knowing from the outset that those would always be part of the picture forms bonds that are unbreakable but also an understanding that we are responsible to one another without fear associated with it.
When I had to tell my mentors about my shortcomings, I often thought about how to avoid the shortcomings in the first place. I wanted them to be proud of me. I wanted to get the work done. I also thought about how my mentees would feel if they had to disclose shortcomings to me. We all have them, so why not meet the person where they are and understand that these happen, and begin strategizing in the beginning about how to prevent them?
5. Seek out opportunities to mentor. In medicine, we have a tendency to get older, burned out, and greedy. We hoard our wealth, our time, our knowledge, and our expertise. We gave up so much time with our loved ones in the beginning that we forget how vital it is to see other people along this journey to ensure that they become exceptional physicians.
At every stage of training and practice, people in medicine should look for an opportunity to serve as mentors. Medical students to undergraduate students and more junior level medical students, residents to medical students, and attending physicians to everyone they can help along the journey.
We never know if we are going to make an important difference in someone’s life or career choice. We can be amazed at what kind of positive impacts we can make on another person and the world, one mentoring relationship at a time.
Micaela Stevenson is a medical student.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com