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Wendy L. Ward, PhD, ABPP, FAPA
Director of Interprofessional Faculty Development
Associate Director of Professional Wellness
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Jeffrey Love, MD
Founding Program Director, Department of Emergency Medicine
Vice Chair, Academic Affairs
Professor, Emergency Medicine
Washington Hospital Center

Valerie N. Williams, PhD, MPA
University of Oklahoma Presidential Professor
Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Faculty Development
University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center

Mentoring programs have been linked to recruitment, engagement, beliefs in the institution’s commitment to its faculty, professional wellness, retention, and career success. As such, improving the availability and quality of mentoring experiences for faculty is an important role for faculty affairs and development (FA/FD) officers. For clarity, the term “mentoring” as used here describes a functional purpose (serving as a career guide toward career success) and can be distinct from sponsoring (advocating for a faculty member for a particular role or other opportunity), onboarding (supporting orientation and adjustment to duties and resources), or consulting (in a limited role, providing insight or specific skill development). In its purest form, a mentorship explores strategic career development in a supportive manner that facilitates mentee growth. This brief guide will focus on the nature and structure of mentorship programs and their development.

The Nature of Mentoring Relationships

A healthy mentoring relationship occurs when the intended goals of the mentor and mentee align, and evidence-based mentorship approaches are provided (e.g., active listening, thought-provoking questions, deliberate instruction, specific and intentional praise and reinforcement, modeling, role-playing, advising leading to learning, and constructive criticism) while building trust and maintaining privacy.

Success in academics does not guarantee good mentorship skills. Rather, good mentors demonstrate the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that support good mentorship, including emotional intelligence and sensitivity to cultural and individual differences. Good mentors have a desire to encourage, motivate, and develop others and are willing to invest time and energy in quality mentoring. Good mentees are open to new ideas, are able to accept and act upon feedback, can communicate and work cooperatively with others, know when to ask for help, are willing and able to meet regularly, are respectful of the mentor’s time, participate in cooperative goal-setting, and accept shared responsibility for both the process and results.

Mentors benefit from an opportunity to positively influence the next generation, obtain new insights and perspectives, grow as a mentor, and attain recognition for mentorship excellence. Mentees benefit from personalized access to a knowledgeable colleague in a nonthreatening environment that includes reassurance and support, strategic career planning, and skill development as a route to achieving improved self-confidence, professional growth, and career success.

Pitfalls in the mentoring relationship include scheduling difficulties, poor communication, incongruent or unrealistic expectations, poor mentorship skill, and breaches of trust or confidentiality. Mentoring relationships often follow an arc from initiation through growth, dissolution, and redefinition to a professional peer relationship. An orienting conversation at the initiation stage can clarify the roles, expectations, and timeline in addition to laying the groundwork for trust-building, deep work, and advance planning for closure.

Mentoring Program Structure

There is no one right way evident in the literature to structure a mentoring program. An organized approach to mentoring may include formal or informal programs at any level of the institution. Considerations central to creating successful programs include an appreciation of the “rules of engagement” by all participants. Mentoring compacts are often used for this purpose with language that provides a framework for discussing individual and shared expectations. Clear, transparent expectations enable clear communication, lay groundwork for resolving problems should they occur, and provide the scaffolding for assessing quality of the mentorship program, and addressing quality improvement.

Mentoring relationships can develop informally, through naturally occurring or prearranged networking or other social gatherings. Formalized mentoring programs may assign mentor-mentee matches. Variables used to create mentor-mentee matches may be identified using a questionnaire to collect information about similarities among faculty track, interests, expertise, and needs. The mentor-to-mentee ratio can also vary from dyadic pairings to multiple mentors or mentees, mentoring teams, or peer-to-peer mentoring. Choosing which ratio works best may depend in part on the ratio of the program’s interested mentors and mentees and, for the mentor especially, adequate time to invest in the mentee(s). Duration of the mentor-mentee relationship may be short (one or a few meetings) or long (multiyear or throughout a career segment). The mentor’s experience level may also differ; mentors may be faculty members with or without mentorship experience, or they may be senior to the mentee, peers, or near-peers.

Mentee characteristics may differ by developmental stage (early-, mid-, or senior-career), track (clinicians, educators, or scientists), demographics (women, ethnic or cultural minorities, LGBTQ persons, persons with a disability, veterans, etc.), or specialized affinities (cancer researchers, medical educators, etc.). Specific groups within the faculty may benefit from and appreciate opportunities to make connections with others who have a shared group identity, particularly if the group is underrepresented among the faculty. The aims of mentoring for these groups include offering safe spaces where any individual can find, engage, and benefit from the professional and personal knowledge and skill development that mentoring offers.

Resources to Support Mentoring Programs

Building capacity to reach and engage faculty members through an organized approach to mentoring requires thoughtful planning. Organized approaches are distinguished by having an identifiable home within the college or department, such as the FA/FD office. The FA/FD office may be tasked with communicating with faculty about mentor and mentee opportunities, finding potential mentors, providing introductions to potential mentees, facilitating the initial meeting process, offering supportive resources, and generally helping mentors and mentees navigate the start-up and wind-down of these career-focused developmental relationships. Structurally, mentoring programs may be fairly inexpensive to operate (with, at minimum, a champion or leader and administrative support) or may have dedicated faculty and administrative staff time and a budget. The FA/FD office may also be charged with formal responsibilities such as delivering mentor and/or mentee training content, matching mentors and mentees, gathering data and establishing metrics, and ensuring program quality meets expected standards. Based on the intended outcome, identifying appropriate personnel, financial, and physical resources to support organized programs may be necessary.

Guidance for Program Development

Planning: Start the planning process by identifying goals and numbers of interested mentors and mentees. Gathering leadership buy-in and support will highlight the value of the program and help reach all interested participants. Advocating for appropriate resources is critical. Identifying existing mentoring efforts across the institution and working collaboratively toward combining efforts or complementary programming will best utilize limited resources. Plan ahead for how outcomes will be measured as well.

Mentor training: Training can be helpful prior to implementing a program, as mentors can benefit from training, self-reflection, and thoughtful constructive feedback. Mentor training can include didactics, simulation, training-in opportunities (pairing with a senior mentor while providing mentorship), ongoing consultation after training, etc. Mentoring also opens the door for personal and well as professional conversations, and it is important to recognize the difference between intentional and compassionate mentoring and issues that may arise that would benefit from professional counseling. Training can help all parties understand how best to navigate difficult issues, maintain appropriate professional boundaries, and build a trusting relationship.

Implementation: Match your needs with the right mentoring program model, and develop a realistic implementation timeline. Consider a speed-mentoring or networking event or a faculty mentoring needs survey as potential first steps. As efforts move toward a more formal program, consider a pilot program with a smaller group to seek feedback before widespread implementation. Identify evaluation tools that both support ongoing quality improvement efforts and highlight for leadership their return on investment. Consider short-term and long-term outcomes, such as mentee satisfaction, mentor satisfaction, skill acquisition, competence and confidence attainment, successful promotion and tenure, role attainment, retention, return on investment, etc.

Promotion, tenure, awards, and recognition: Mentors should be acknowledged for their efforts. Promotion and tenure guidelines that clearly underscore the value of mentoring are important. Public recognition is also helpful. For example, when acknowledging newly promoted individuals in front of their peers, include the name(s) of their mentor(s). Providing a Mentor of the Year award or other recognition of mentoring excellence can also be valuable in recognizing excellence in mentorship and encouraging others to become mentors.

Conclusion

Mentoring for professional development and faculty success is not simply instructional — it is relational, enabling the mentee to build a more robust capacity as a faculty member. While mentorship programs in academic medicine may differ in terms of goals, target faculty group, structure, and support, they have the universal potential of benefiting both mentees and mentors.

Suggested Resources to Get Started

  1. Grants can provide start-up funds. Check grantome.com for National Institute of General Medical Sciences grants and other funding sources. 
  2. The National Research Mentoring Network has career development mentorship opportunities (nrmnet.net).
  3. The AAMC published three mentoring compacts: one each for residents, postdocs, and graduate students. The postdoctoral version (aamc.org/what-we-do/mission-areas/medical-research/post-doc-compact) includes many of the tenets needed and could be easily tweaked for faculty mentoring purposes.

Suggested Readings

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