Mentorship 101: How Do I Become a Skilled Mentor?

William Levine, MD, FAAOS

April 5, 2021


Mentorship has become recognized as one of the most important and critical aspects of medical training (and all work force relationships). Google “Mentorship and you will find 1000s of “hits” from which to read. What is mentorship? Simply defined, it is the process of direct transfer of experience and knowledge from one person to another. Where did the word “mentor” originate from?

  • In the Odyssey, Mentor in his old age was best friend of Odysseus
  • Odysseus must leave to fight in the Trojan war
  • Odysseus leaves his son Telemarchus and his palace under Mentor’s care
  • Mentor was a trusted friend, more experienced, counselor and teacher

Principles of Mentorship

1Synergy

  • Enriching for mentor and mentee
  • Mentee empowered to take responsibility for actions
  • Mentoring is about learning, not teaching

2Relationship

  • Focus is to develop mentee’s independent critical thinking (not to make mentee dependent on mentor)

3Uniqueness

  • Understand concept of mentorship and how it differs from coaching (see below)
  • Mentorship must provide direction to mentee
  • Critical to becoming a skilled a mentor is differentiating mentorship from coaching – here are some of the key elements:

Mentorship                                                      Coaching

Oriented around relationships                            Oriented around defined tasks

Development driven (focus on future)                 Performance driven (focus on present)

Significant time commitment (from both)           Defined ending when skill/task is achieved

Success measured in broad terms                       Success easier to measure – specific task achievement

Now that we know the difference between a mentor and a coach, what are some of the key skills to become a “skilled mentor”?

1Active Listening and Observation

  • Must be present (no multi-tasking!)
  • Listening to what is said and what is implied
  • Observing self in relationship with mentee
  • Observing one’s thoughts, impressions and perceptions

2Empathy, Warmth and Respect

  • Learn to get out of your own shoes before stepping into others
  • Warmth expressed through eyes and voice
  • Respect uniqueness of mentee and his/her views even when they differ from yours

3Focus

  • Focus on critical aspects
  • Avoid “mission creep” (those things that detract from goals and objectives)

4Resolution to Challenge Mentee to “Raise the Bar”

  • Point out discrepancies between speech and actions; intent and impact
  • Compassionate redirection (but stern if necessary) to better align goals

5Story Telling and Self-Disclosure

  • Share personal experience
  • Keep it real
  • Encourage mentee to share stories as well

The final pieces of the puzzle are patience and commitment. I would not recommend “dabbling” in mentorship – it’s a full contact sport. You are asking a lot of your mentee (s) and they are looking for commitment from you in return. Make sure you have the time, patience, and commitment to take on the mentorship role and if you do it is incredibly rewarding. Remember we were all mentees at one time. This is your opportunity to pay forward the mentorship that allowed you to get where you are today. I have personally found nothing more gratifying in my career than having the privilege of serving as a mentor and hope the advice provided in this post will allow you to become a skilled mentor in the future!


DISCLOSURE: Dr. Levine is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Rosemont, IL, and the Frank E. Stinchfield Professor and Chairman, Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY.
Dr. Levine or an immediate family member serves as an unpaid consultant to Zimmer Biomet.

Read the AAOS Discussion Group Terms, Conditions and Disclaimers HERE

Copyright© 2021 by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons


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