Menteeship 101: How Can I Be a Great Mentee?

Matthew Varacallo, MD | Amiethab Aiyer, MD

July 8, 2021

“Here I am, ready for you to mentor me!”

While on the surface this may sound like the best and easiest way to start your interaction with a mentor, unfortunately, the mentor-mentee relationship is deservedly much more in-depth.  The best relationships in life are bi-directional, and the mentor-mentee relationship is no different!

Here are some tips on how to be a great mentee!

1Do Your Homework Ahead of Time

Learn about your potential mentor ahead of time. From your initial email, phone conversation, or face-to-face meeting, demonstrating a vested interest will go a long way to ensure success. Remember that his/her time is very valuable – showing them that you have cared enough about the initial encounter to go out of your way to cultivate a solid foundation for the relationship is critical. This can take you 10-15 minutes on a weeknight, but the benefits will be immeasurable.

2Value the Encounters and Value Each Other’s Time

Respect your time and your mentor’s time.  Prior to each meeting, create a list of what you want to accomplish.  Develop a rank-order list of topics you wish to cover (1-5, for example), and if you only get through the first 2 topics, you can always cover the rest at a later date.  Do not pressure your mentor and avoid being too pushy.  We have personally used the list making technique and found this to be a very beneficial practice. Some mentors may value a more informal engagement and if this case, having a sense of what your topics you want to cover can be beneficial as well.

3Be Proactive

Be proactive with volunteering your time/efforts in various projects or experiences. An easy way to establish a connection with a potential mentor is to shadow in clinic or in the OR; doing this consistently can help to nurture the development of a mentorship. As times goes on and each of you gets to know each other, research opportunities may more readily present themselves. Instead of saying “What research projects do you have for me?”, change the optics and approach and try this: “I noticed that you have several research projects and publications on (for example) total shoulder replacements, I would love to be involved in any future projects you have in this area, or if you have other current projects I would love to potentially get involved in any way I can.”  This approach demonstrates that you have done your due diligence and remain open to helping in any area in any way you can.

4Remember the “Two-Way Street” at All Times

While the experience should be beneficial for both parties, nothing may disengage a potential mentor more than an individual that shows up with one-sided interests.  Be patient.  The first time is not always the charm in terms of the ultimate connection.  Even if nothing comes from the first few meetings or encounters, continue to stay in touch, and make yourself available. It is also important to recognize that not all mentor-mentee relationships will mature in a mutually beneficial way. If this happens, respectfully back out of the relationship and seek to find a mentor that is more suitable for your needs.

5Appreciate the Dynamic Evolution of the Relationship

The mentor-mentee relationship is anything but stagnant.  Too often it is incorrectly viewed as a single stage event that exists in a vacuum (e.g. a medical student applying to get into orthopedics).  In fact, the best relationships evolve over time. Our best mentor-mentee relationships have gone from the resident-student starting point to an attending-attending relationship.    

The mentor-mentee relationship has no definitive “blueprint”, and that is part of the beauty of the relationship.  Always learn from your experiences, be open-minded, and always be respectful and grateful of each other’s time.  Good luck!

DISCLOSURES: Dr. Aiyer American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society: Board or committee member, Delee & Drez Orthopaedic Sports Medicine (Elsevier): Publishing royalties, financial or material support, Medline: Paid consultant, Medshape: Paid consultant, Miller’s Review of Orthopaedics (Elsevier): Publishing royalties, financial or material support Dr. Kaplan Medline: Paid consultant, Wright Medical Technology, Inc.: Paid consultant Dr. Varacallo This individual reported nothing to disclose.

Read the AAOS Code of Conduct for Discussion Group Terms, Conditions and Disclaimers HERE.

Copyright© 2021 by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

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