A GI faculty member is approached by two medical students who are planning careers in gastroenterology. They are interested in research projects and are very willing to dedicate the necessary time and energy. The faculty member is impressed by their desire and finds themselves recalling their own unsuccessful medical school search for a research mentor. Inspired by their enthusiasm and a desire to “give back,” the faculty member agrees to mentor them and helps them find suitable projects. Primarily because of the students’ hard work and fueled by their desire to produce results that will help their residency applications, the work progresses rapidly. Both students have separate abstracts accepted at a national meeting.
When COVID-19 hits, the faculty member is asked by their department to take on additional administrative and clinical work. They feel they cannot say no. Soon the faculty member finds it difficult to manage these new responsibilities on top of their many research projects, numerous clinical obligations, and additional pressures outside of work. They find they have no time for mentoring or even adequate sleep. Facing burnout, the faculty member is uncertain what to do for these hard-working and very gifted students. How would you recommend they manage their mentoring obligations?
Mentorship is a cornerstone of academic medicine. In fact, it has been shown that academic clinicians who serve as mentors publish more papers, get more grants, are promoted faster, and are more likely to stay at their academic institutions with greater career satisfaction.1 However, not every mentor-mentee relationship is mutually beneficial. Usually, it’s the mentees that disproportionately suffer the consequences of a suboptimal relationship.2
Mentorship malpractice occurs when mentors’ behavior crosses a threshold that places the mentees’ success at risk.1,2 While the case above highlights a specific scenario where multiple issues are unfolding, the ability to recognize, address, and most importantly prevent mentorship malpractice ultimately benefits both mentees and mentors.
Understanding the various types of mentorship malpractice is helpful for prevention and course correction. As described by Chopra and colleagues, there are multiple types of passive and active mentorship malpractice.2 The passive forms are characterized by a lack of face-to-face meeting time with mentees and/or a lack of advocacy on the mentees’ behalf. Meanwhile, the active forms occur when the mentor exhibits self-serving behaviors. These can include listing themselves as first author on a mentee’s project or discouraging a mentee from working with other mentors. Mentors must be able to self-check, seek feedback from mentees, and encourage mentees to further their professional networks beyond the boundaries of what the mentor alone can offer. Doing so helps create new opportunities and helps ensure a mutually beneficial relationship.
A great initial step to prevent passive and active mentorship malpractice is to leverage the benefits of team mentorship.2,3 At its core, team mentorship capitalizes on the collective contributions of multiple mentors. Doing so not only provides security during uncertain times, but also allows for a diversity of perspectives, distribution of workload among mentors, and additional support for mentees.3,4 Team mentorship it is particularly important during this current global health crisis, and such an approach from the outset could have significantly improved the scenario above.
For the above scenario, likely a transition in mentorship would be needed. Such transitions, whether short term or long term, require transparency, honesty, and willingness to engage in difficult conversations with mentees. Whether the mentor in the above case engages another faculty to take on the mentees or chooses to find a colleague who will agree to take on other competing demands, it will require time, effort, and energy – all of which are in short supply. When team mentorship is established from the outset, such transitions of mentorship can occur seamlessly and with more ease for all.
Additional considerations for successful mentoring of medical students or early-career physicians include understanding generational differences between the mentor and their mentees. As outlined by Waljee and colleagues, the next generation of trainees and physicians may act in ways that deviate from the norms of academic medicine’s tradition. As a mentor, it is imperative to understand these actions are not intended to disrupt the traditions and norms of health systems.5 For example, the use of technology during rounds can often be misconstrued as disrespectful. However, the underlying intent in many cases is to answer a question or access a helpful reference.
Seeing behavior and actions from the perspective of the mentee is one of the many ways to support and sustain successful mentoring relationships. A mindful approach benefits both mentees and mentors; this includes reflecting on the underlying motives for mentorship and cultivating gratitude for the relationships formed.6 While these steps may seem trivial, gratitude promotes happiness, trust, motivation, and respect. It can be felt by others, including mentees.
As mentors continue to shape the future, they have an ethical obligation to care for themselves, in addition to their mentees. In addition to avoiding mentorship malpractice, engaging in team mentorship, and incorporating mindful mentoring, an emphasis on self-care is critical.7 Taking time to recharge is essential. It allows one to be fully present, while also setting an example for the mentee. Explicitly addressing self-care for both mentor and mentee is a part of mindful mentorship, with benefits for all.6
Three key points:
1. Awareness of mentorship malpractice
2. Importance of team mentorship
3. Benefits of mindful mentorship
Mr. Rodoni is with the University of Michigan Medical School and Stephen M. Ross School of Business, Ann Arbor, Mich. Dr. Fessel is a professor of radiology in the department of radiology at Michigan Medicine, Ann Arbor. They reported having no disclosures relevant to this article.
1. Chopra V et al..
2. Chopra V et al..
3. Chopra V et al. The Mentoring Guide: Helping Mentors & Mentees Succeed. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, 2019.
4. Rodoni BM et al..
5. Waljee JF et al..
6. Chopra V and Saint S..
7. Fessell D et al. “.” Harvard Business Review. 2020 Oct 29.