As someone less than 1 year into practice, I believe mentorship is one of the most critical essentials as a trainee and a junior attending. I have been privileged to have excellent mentors throughout my training and now, in my first job. A lot of this is luck, but I also have always put mentorship at the top of my list when looking for fellowships and jobs. In fact, part of the reason I took the job I currently have is because the contract clearly stated who my clinical and academic mentors would be. This showed the department’s dedication to grooming junior staff appropriately. Below is my take on how to find mentors.
Have multiple mentors
It’s good to have multiple mentors, each of whom can provide a different kind of mentorship. For junior faculty, key areas of mentorship include:
- Building clinical volume.
- Establishing your reputation as a safe and competent clinician/surgeon.
- Designing your academic/research career.
- Planning your overall career.
- Solving any political/administrative issues.
Currently, my division chief is my clinical/general mentor, from whom I seek clinical advice, political advice should I find myself in a tough situation as a junior attending, and personal advice, as well. We meet monthly to go over various things including clinical/research projects and any clinical issues. I have an academic mentor, who is a basic scientist; we review research ideas together. He reads over and critiques my grants, and he picks apart my presentations. I also have a very senior mentor, a retired thoracic surgeon, whom I seek when I have a challenging case; it is crucial to identify a senior surgeon who has an abundance of experience so you can pick his or her brain – a true resource. This is in addition to the mentors I have from my training, with whom I am still in contact. I think it is important to have mentors outside of your current work for certain situations.
Mentors do not have to be in your discipline
It’s useful to have mentors from different fields. As I stated above, my academic mentor is a basic scientist. I am a thoracic surgeon, but I consider my general surgery residency chair, who is an accomplished surgical oncologist, and my residency program director, a general surgeon, to be two of my important mentors. I think it’s a good idea to have someone outside of your discipline as your mentor, even someone in a nonsurgical discipline, as long as she or he provides what you need, such as general career decisions and research mentorship. Having people from different disciplines adds more perspective and depth. For women, female mentors may provide input on career decisions at different life stages.
Do your homework about your would-be mentors
When deciding among different jobs, I did as much homework as possible in researching my would-be clinical mentors, who in most cases are also your senior partners. This included speaking with other junior faculty members within the division, people who had worked with the person in the past, and current mentors who may know them. In my mind, I found the most valuable resources to be people who had worked in the past with potential new mentors or senior partners. They can provide unbiased, sometimes negative, opinions that others might be less willing to provide. In fact, I probably spent more time trying to understand to the negative comments, since this provided valuable information, too.
I always asked questions specific to the mentorship. Were they around to help you in the OR when needed, or was it more of a verbal “I’ll be around”? Were they good about giving the juniors clinical volume and sharing OR time? Did you feel like you grew under his or her mentorship?
In conclusion, my advice about mentorship is to have multiple mentors, each for different purposes. For those looking for fellowships and jobs, learning all you can about your would-be mentors goes a long way toward ensuring an ideal position.
Dr. Suzuki is a general thoracic surgeon at Boston Medical Center.