Key Takeaways

  • In addition to helping mentees grow and navigate their careers, mentors also gain personal and professional growth through these relationships.
  • It's important to listen to the needs and desires of mentees in order to provide effective guidance and maintain a supportive relationship.
  • Being a mentor can be challenging, but setting aside dedicated time and engaging in sincere conversations can foster strong mentor-mentee bonds and positively impact both parties.

With the recent push to avoid physician burnout and improve physician well-being, the benefits of having a mentor are often proposed as a way to ease some of the problems. Having a mentor can increase your support group, help you grow as a professional, and even improve your career prospects, in private or academic pathways.[1]

Residents and young career physicians may not realize that the benefits of mentorship go both ways—the relationship helps both the mentee and the mentor.[2]

I am happy to be a mentor and have been one for close to 3 years, including some time while I was still in residency at the UTHealth McGovern Medical School in Houston, Texas.

Why I became a mentor

I first became interested in being a mentor because I have benefited tremendously from many of my own mentors.

Originally from Mexico, I have always felt out of place and a stranger to the educational and medical system here in the United States. As a medical student, I often felt left out, and I sought to find my place in the Texas Medical Center, one of the world’s largest medical institutions.

I was lucky to have found a great mentor who really helped me grow, to the point where I attained the leadership position of a Hispanic medical student national organization.

“My mentor always inspired me to become an 'educational multiplier.'” — Joaquin Villegas, MD

An educational multiplier is someone who is able to recognize the hidden talent in someone and help them develop that talent so they can repeat the cycle of educational promotion with others as well.[3] When mentoring someone, I always strive to multiply my efforts by creating a meaningful connection that benefits both of us.

Understanding your mentee

Finding the right connection is particularly important when dealing with difficult mentees, whether they be medical residents or medical students.

I remember one time I encountered this when I first became a mentor to a pre-medical student.

As a mentor, I felt that I had to constantly provide advice, and I would find myself frustrated when my mentee would “deviate” from the plan we had come up with together to help her get into medical school. During one of our many discussions, my mentee eventually told me that what she was looking for wasn’t a roadmap or a step-by-step plan to medical school. Instead, she wanted a guide to steer her in the right direction when she wanted to approach things in a new way.

By having an honest discussion, we were able to come to a resolution that fulfilled both of us, and which included keeping our mentor-mentee relationship intact and supportive of her goals, which she was able to achieve.

Mentoring takes time

Of course, being a mentor also comes with its own challenges. One of my main challenges has always been managing my time effectively.

As medical professionals, our time outside of clinical duties is hard to find, even for the benefit of ourselves and our well-being. So, it is vital to be realistic about the time available for mentoring sessions, which can limit the number of mentees you can successfully handle.

I strive to set dedicated time aside for regular and meaningful encounters with my mentees. In a post-COVID world, face-to-face meetings are no longer a necessity, which has made connecting with others easier.

Be genuine

During residency, when I was on inpatient rotations and pushing the duty-hour limitations on a weekly basis, fitting in time for my mentees could be difficult. But I found that, sometimes, a simple phone call or video conversation that was genuine was all that was needed to maintain the connection.

If you can make sure to be present and sincerely interested in the conversation that you are having, your mentee will appreciate the opportunity to meet with you, even if it’s only for a brief period of time. When you enjoy the time spent with your mentee, it can also have positive effects on your own mental health, since you are connecting to another person, who might be struggling with issues you have faced in the past.

Mentoring is a great opportunity for residents and early-career physicians to grow personally and professionally. All residents are already mentors, whether they realize it or not. They mentor the medical students that rotate with them, and the younger generation of residents that come after them.

Hopefully, my experience can help some of you to identify the many opportunities to share your knowledge and guide the future physician workforce.

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MD Linx | March 21, 2023

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