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The Importance of Mentoring and of Being Mentored

      I recently helped to edit the second edition of the American Heart Association's (AHA) mentoring book which appeared last fall.
      The first edition was highly successful and led to the current version that also can be obtained from the AHA. This text has special meaning for me because I have been extremely fortunate in acquiring a number of mentors throughout my career. These relationships began in my undergraduate years and have continued right up to the present time. Each relationship has been essential to my career's growth and development.
      What is a mentor and why is it important to have one? A mentor is usually an older, experienced colleague who helps guide the career and life direction of a younger co-worker whom I call the mentee. A mentoring relationship usually develops when the more experienced professional, the “mentor,” takes a younger colleague, the “mentee” or protégé under their wing. In Homer's epic poem, The Odyssey, Mentor was a trusted friend of Odysseus. When the latter was about to set out for the Trojan War with his allies, he entrusted Mentor with the care of his home and the education of his beloved son, Telemachus. Today we envision a mentor as someone who is both a counselor and a teacher and who instructs, admonishes, and assists a junior colleague in attaining success. Inherent in the background and structure of the word “mentor” are the concepts of wise counsel, mutual respect, responsibility, instruction, discipline, and role modeling.
      In the teaching hospital or medical school, mentoring relationships often develop between members of the teaching faculty and students, medical residents, or subspecialty fellows. Young physicians starting their own practice also can benefit from effective mentoring by older, established colleagues and associates in the community in which they practice. The obvious benefit that accrues from mentoring a junior associate can be seen in the structure of many successful multi-person and/or multi-specialty professional groups.
      How does one go about finding a mentor? No hard or fast rules exist for this process. Sometimes trainees, young faculty, or junior practice partners hear about a successful mentor from friends and/or colleagues. It is certainly appropriate for the junior colleague to approach such an individual for advice, and ask if the senior colleague is willing to become a mentor. In selecting a mentor, the mentee should look not only for a person who has a track record of helping junior colleagues, but also someone whom they trust, like, and respect and from whom they can get rapid feedback. The best mentor may not be the most prominent practitioner or the most published senior faculty member or even someone with whom the mentee has commonalities of background or interest.
      I think you will all agree with me that support for young individuals pursuing a career in biomedicine from those professionals already working in the area is essential. In an environment in which a single decade can change diagnostic and treatment paradigms along with research goals, those who are new to the field need the guidance, support, and direction of those who have gone before them. Mentoring is a key component for career development and is, in fact, a critically important form of collaboration between successive generations in our profession. I urge you to take the opportunity to offer yourself as a mentor or to seek out a mentor sometime in the next month. As a mentor, you'll find the rewards of participating in this relationship to be more than adequate compensation for your time and may also provide additional growth for you in your career. And, as a mentee, you will learn the skills that you can then offer further on in your own career.
      As always, I'd be interested in hearing your comments on this important topic. Feel free to post a comment on our blog, http://amjmed.blogspot.com.

      Reference

      1. Alpert J.S. Bettman M. Mentoring Handbook. Second Edition. American Heart Association, Dallas, Texas2008