Why mentors are so important in medicine

This article is sponsored by Careers by KevinMD.com.

After spending a decade in college and medical school, followed by internships and residency, seeking additional guidance at the beginning of your career may seem excessive. You’ve already taken direction from dozens of leaders; isn’t it time to cut your own path?

Yes and no. You’ll make plenty of your own decisions, but a career journey is something you take with others. It’s also a trek that should include mentoring to help young medical professionals better navigate all the twists and turns and forks they’re guaranteed to encounter on the road.

Finding a mentor is an important part of anyone’s professional career. Considering the time, effort and money you’ve already invested in your career, receiving guidance from someone who already has taken the same journey could be an important—if not vital—step.

Finding and maintaining productive mentoring relationships can be a significant challenge in itself. The following input supplied by doctors and career advisors is intended to make that task far more manageable.

Mentors are necessary

“Any true professional development involves mentoring.” That’s the forthright opinion of Dr. Dara Kass, an emergency medicine physician, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City and a member of the College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). “You already have mentors in the other areas of your life, especially your personal life, so it just makes sense to have one for your job as well,” Kass adds.

She’s not alone in her thinking. Employment professionals like Casey Jacox, President of Client Strategy and Partnerships at Kforce, a staffing firm, says mentors are an absolute necessity, especially since they are key drivers when it comes to setting and achieving career goals. Mentors point young professionals to the specific objectives they should be targeting and then offer the encouragement essential to hitting the mark.

Going it alone can mean wasting precious time pursuing goals offering less substantial rewards and still falling short. Jacox’s evidence: He says look at the goals you set and pursue solely on your own and consider the success rate. Look next at how far and fast the people around you are moving. A mentor makes perfect sense.

Mentor the aspect, not the person

This might be one of the most misunderstood facets of working with a mentor, says Kass. A mentor isn’t going to help guide every part of your professional life, just those aspects you want to develop where the mentor has expertise.

Have more than one mentor

Developing multiple aspects means having multiple mentors. It also translates into benefiting from a wider spectrum of experience and wisdom, and a chance to look into areas where mentors may not agree. Seeing a difference of opinion can help you evaluate the philosophy and experience guiding your mentors and provide important insight on how to reach career decisions.

Find the right mentors the right way

Choosing mentors starts with finding someone similar to you who has experience and a record of success, obviously. Penny Loretto, associate director in the Career Development Center at Skidmore College and owner of Career Choice, says it’s also important to find someone who’s enthusiastic about the field and interested in growth. You don’t want guidance from someone who’s unhappy or who’s stagnating in a position.

From there, find a way to establish the mentorship. While some experts recommend formal requests, Kass says the mentoring foundation should be organic, the product of personal interaction and familiarity. “Find someone you have a natural connection with,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be formal and actually should follow your natural growth in the field.”

Kass also says mentoring should never be a private pursuit: “You need to let people know who you are and what you want.” You’re probably surrounded by a number of potential mentors. Make it easy for them to come to you.

There are benefits to being a mentor

Don’t be shy or reluctant about entering into a mentorship, even in the medical field where experienced professionals can be extremely busy with a number of other responsibilities. Kass says there’s plenty of motivations for being a mentor: “It means expanding your impact. It’s a great way of building your legacy.” These same professionals very likely benefited from having their own mentors and continue to reap the rewards of this kind of guidance.

What’s more, in an effort to continuously improve, hospitals are increasingly encouraging doctors and other professionals to become mentors. L. Rose Hollister, a principal at Perrone-Ambrose Associates, Inc., a consulting firm that helps organizations create mentoring cultures, encourages doctors to become mentors for two reasons:

  • Increased value within an organization. By coaching others and providing a valuable resource, mentors facilitate their own growth, gain new perspectives and establish an important bridge to new generations a and cultures.
  • Retaining critical skills. Hospitals, like any other organization, thrive when they offer the latest services. Mentoring helps keep those services in place while inspiring others to bring new skill sets home.

Mentorships, therefore, reward both parties. They’ve also proven their worth across professional types and career stages. Isn’t it time you began working on yours?

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