I’ve recently spent some time thinking about what it means to be a mentor. We’re often thrust into this role – with very little training on how to actually do this. I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by a plethora of excellent mentors and residents, and have noted some clear observations on what seems to work well, beyond the evidence. This post is also chalk full of excellent advice from Dr. Jason Frank, perhaps one of the best medical educators out there today. When talking about mentorship, we’re referring to educational and academic guidance provided to residents, although many principles also apply to mentoring amongst staff physicians as well.
When you’re in the fortunate position of mentoring an learner, they’re constantly looking to you as a role model and for feedback. Teaching the learners under your tutelage at any opportunity provides them with exceptional learning, and it ensures that they know you’re always approachable with an interesting case or finding. It’s pretty easy to put into practice – had a cool case recently, and a resident is wandering past, or happens to be working near by? Incorporate them; show them the images, blood work etc. It doesn’t even matter who it is, if one of your residents is nearby, teach them something. Even when the department is busy, or you have a super smart senior resident – there is always something you can teach them.
Know when they need your support
Medical Education guru Dr. Jason Frank frequently harps on the importance of diagnosing your learner with on shift teaching, but it is also critical to read your learner to know when they need questions, oral exams, or just a coffee and the ability to rant. It is often easy to forget that residency is a challenging time in one’s life, and often times, these residents need their mentors to be a sounding board for their problems outside of work. Sometimes, you need to know when not to push your resident too hard, when they need an easy shift. They’re unlikely to tell you this, and so as a mentor or coach, it is incumbent upon you to try and ‘read the room’ and diagnose your learner to ensure they are getting what they need out of their time with you. Third night shift in a row? Maybe it is a good time to talk about wellness, rather than asking them about drugs that cause pancreatitis (I swear, I didn’t do this my last night shift..).
It can often be hard to diagnose your mentee if you do not know what is going on in their lives. Check in from time to time – a coffee, dinner, text or email; just so they know that you’re invested, and so you have a sense of how things are going throughout their residency. I try to make it a point of sitting down with my mentees face-to-face every few months if possible. If not feasible, try another way to check in and see how things are going for them. It often helps for them to have a sounding board with someone who has been through what they are going through now.
Know about their lives
You should be invested in your mentee’s lives; you should know their partner(s), pets, interests and hobbies. The mentors I cherished always checked in, and made sure they always knew what was happening in my life – and when things were particularly stressful they knew how to be supportive and helpful.
At some point, a mentee will come to you with a bad case, patient complaint or concerns about something else particularly stressful. While you are useful for helping them problem solve, and deal with the issue it is also an important time to acknowledge the learner’s strong suit. They just got dealt a blow, and need a confidence boost – who better to provide it than a mentor.
This one is pretty easy. There isn’t much point in mentoring someone if you’re too busy/unavailable. It is important to set aside the time to meet up – or to be amenable to chatting with them when they need your help or advice.
Hold up a mirror
This one is directly from Jason Frank – he suggests that an mentor is the perfect person to ‘hold up a mirror’ to reflect back to the resident how they appear to others; clinically, socially etc. The mentor has a unique role to be able to share insights from what others see in that learner. At times, this may mean giving potentially challenging feedback, but it is important for the mentor to do this, so that the resident may be constantly improving themselves.
Know how they learn
Everyone has a unique and different learning style, most people have a sense of how they learn new concepts best. As a mentor, it is important for you to find out what teaching styles your mentee(s) have, to better suit how they need to be taught. Many of us have a particular teaching style that we like to employ, however, it is probably more important to take into account the learning style of your mentee to best adequately suit their educational needs.
It is important to be cognizant of your mentorship style, and what you excel at in order to best suit the needs of your mentees. We would love to hear any other tips/strategies you have in mentoring or coaching junior residents or staff below!