Become a mentor in your junior years – it’s never to early to start

“I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.” – Hippocratic Oath.

The opening vow of the Hippocratic oath highlights just how integral mentoring is to the medical profession. Mentoring is a relationship between a more experienced person, the mentor, who helps the more junior person, the mentee, in learning to navigate the world of work and relationships [1]. A mentee can benefit from such a relationship with career related support including knowledge, exposure, coaching, and connections [1]. Another important benefit for the mentee is the personal support, with encouragement, building of confidence, and having a professional role model. However unlike what most people might think, this is not a one-sided relationship — there is a wealth of evidence suggesting that mentoring is good for you, your team and your patients, resulting in better carer outcomes and higher job satisfaction [1, 2, 3, 4]. The mentor also benefits through growth in counselling skills, having the perspective of another (perhaps from a different generation, gender, or hospital system), and of course the general sense of satisfaction derived from fostering such a relationship.

It’s never too early to start

At first a mentor sounds like a grand concept, reserved for department
heads, established researchers, or experienced clinicians. However, you can be an effective mentor even if you haven’t even finished your medical degree. At its core, a mentor needs to impart knowledge (technical skills) and wisdom (social skills) to another in a long term relationship built on mutual trust and shared interests [2]. In actual fact, a medical student mentor is well placed to do this, in general being easier to access and more approachable, as well as
being able to place themselves in the mentees shoes (having been there only a few years before). Whilst not well explored in the literature, there are indications that peer mentors are an invaluable resource in medicine [2].

Where to start

To be effective, mentoring requires empathy, maturity, self confidence,
resourcefulness, and the willingness to commit time and energy to another [6]. Many younger medical students would be grateful for the opportunity. In fact, mentoring has a low prevalence in medical schools, with less than half of students reporting having a mentor, and females less than males [4]. Often, the best mentoring relationships begin informally and
gradually. This could be a friend’s sibling hoping to study medicine, or a younger medical student you met on campus or in the hospital. In addition, many medical student societies facilitate formal mentoring programs, including in small groups or on an individual basis. To help direct this into a fruitful and fulfilling relationship, a mentor may need to be conscious of several factors. It is widely known that mentoring relationships in the early years of medical school are invaluable for launching productive careers and forming informal learning networks [6]. As medical students, we too can contribute to age old tradition of passing on altruism and nurturing as enduring qualities of the medical profession.

Some tips

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  1. Allen TD, Eby LT, Poteet ML, Lentz E, Lima L. Career benefits associated with mentoring for proteges: a meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology. 2004; 89(1):127.
  2. Mayer AP, Files JA, Ko MG, Blair JE. Academic advancement of women in medicine: do socialized gender differences have a role in mentoring?. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2008; 83 (2): 204-207.
  3. Straus S, Sackett D. Mentorship in academic medicine. John Wiley & Sons. 2013.
  4. Sambunjak D, Straus SE, Marušić A. Mentoring in academic medicine: a systematic review. JAMA. 2006;296(9):1103-15.
  5. Mark S, Link H, Morahan PS, Pololi L, Reznik V, Tropez-Sims S. Innovative mentoring programs to promote gender equity in academic medicine. Academic Medicine. 2001; 76(1):39-42.
  6. Barondess JA. On mentoring. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 1997;90(6):347.
  7. Ravindra P, Ftixgerald JEF. Defining surgical role models and their influence on career choice. World Journal of Surgery. 2011; 35:704-709.
  8. Bismark M, Morris J, Thomas L, Loh E, Phelps G, Dickinson H. Reasons and remedies for under- representation of women in medical leadership roles: a qualitative study from Australia. BMJ open. 2015;5(11).

Erika Strazdins