The Heart of the Mentoring Relationship

Dr. Ethan C is impressed by Dr. Diane W’s enthusiasm, knowledge, confidence and poise. He asks Diane to serve as his mentor. Diane agrees to take on Ethan as a mentee for a 12-month period. Ethan is ecstatic to have someone in his corner during this juncture in his career, and he already feels much more confident.

The best mentoring relationships are built on a foundation of mutual effort, respect, trust, and the courage to communicate openly. There is shared respect and appreciation of the skills, wisdom, and life experiences each party brings to the relationship. To achieve that success as you embark on a new mentoring relationship, it will be critical to establish
a framework for your discussions. This includes consideration of boundaries, commitment to the highest standards of personal and professional integrity, and a willingness to provide the necessary
protected time for mentoring.12 

Mentoring relationships often include discussion of both professional and personal issues of a difficult nature. Creating a successful and productive relationship requires a mutual sensitivity and commitment to creating a safe, confidential environment, which reflects the high standards of ethical practice.

Time constraints are often expressed as a reason for not embarking on a mentoring relationship. An effective mentoring relationship doesn’t require excessive time. Planning together to establish shared goals and expectations as well as meeting times will make time more manageable. Reviewing progress on a regular basis enhances confidence in the shared
commitment. For most, the benefits of happy, productive and well-trained team members outweighs the time spent. 

Mentees and mentors both carry responsibilities in the relationship, as outlined here.

Mutual responsibilities of mentee and mentor

  • Bring enthusiasm, optimism, sensitivity, unselfishness, and respect to the relationship.
  • Make a commitment of time and energy.
  • Strive to be open to new ideas and feedback.
  • Recognize that in the discussion of "goals," those goals may include those of the mentor, the mentee, and the hospital.
  • Commit to and reaffirm the highest standards of professional conduct, including full confidentiality of discussions.
  • Reschedule any meeting time that can't be met.
  • Periodically assess and celebrate progress.
  • Periodically evaluate the mentoring relationship to see if it should continue, be modified or terminated.

Mentee role and responsibilities

The mentee should seek to accept full ownership of the relationship as follows:

  • Establishes "vision plan"with help of the mentor.7,9
  • Takes responsibility to "own" the relationship. Discusses and prioritizes professional needs and goals.
  • May request help in clarifying goals, finding resources and identifying new directions.
  • Respects the mentor's time commitment by identifying, planning, and preparing issues for discussion.
  • Recognizes that learning client communication skills and medical/surgical skills take time and practice, trusting that confidence will build.
  • Is open to a non-academic perspective in private practice.
  • Clarifies with the mentor the preferred method for conveying the mentee's new ideas about patient care, client communication, and hospital management.
  • Is willing to share fears and concerns with the mentor, learning that it is acceptable and natural to sometimes feel helpless, lost, or frightened.
  • Understands the importance of the all team members and their key role in delivering top quality medical care to patients.
  • With mentor's assistance, strives to develop a professional rapport with the hospital team.
  • Brings ideas to improve communication with mentor, clients, and fellow team members.
  • Actively pursues opportunities to network.
  • Strives to be a receptive and active listener, knowing that constructive feedback is an essential element to continuous professional growth.

Mentor role and responsibilities

The mentor accepts critical responsibilities as follows:

  • Actively listens to the needs and goals of the mentee, and asks challenging questions.
  • Helps the mentee establish a vision plan and short- and long-term goals.7
  • Ensures that the Mentee understands and commits to the practice mission, vision and values.
  • Strives to learn and practice the ability to give constructive feedback.
  • Appreciates that mentees will often need time and practice to translate their advice and guidance into improved skills (surgical, business, and staff/client relations).
  • Helps guide the mentee in medical decision making-process, e.g., conferring with doctors within the practice and with specialists. Give validity to mentees' observations, using case examples.
  • Strives to help the mentee become fully independent as a professional, recognizing that the mentee has ultimate responsibility for the personal and professional decisions. Encourages self-directed learning by the mentee.
  • Provides resources and solutions (e.g., internet sites, texts, or networking via professional associations).
  • Helps the mentee learn and improve communication skills with clients and team members, and thus to create positive professional relationships.
  • Avoids intended or unintended use of implied power. For example, mentors may also have the role of supervisor of the mentee. In creating a positive environment for both sides, the dual role of this relationship needs to be acknowledged and respected.
  • Adjusts mentoring to the mentee's changing needs, such as providing verbal encouragement, demonstrating skills, or just being available if needed.