Reflections on Mentorship

Author: Mary Haas, MD
AAEM/RSA President ’16-’17
Originally Published: Common Sense September/October 2016

Mentorship has played a crucial role in my brief EM career. Perhaps, more importantly, it has also contributed to my personal and professional wellness. Realizing this, I asked myself a few questions. Why does mentorship matter? What makes a good mentor?

The term mentor originated from Homer’s Odyssey, as the name of the man entrusted by Odysseus, the king of Ithaca, to care for his son and household while he fought in the Trojan War. Following that example, a mentor is one who guides a junior colleague. Specifically a mentor should teach, advise, and share wisdom with their colleague. A mentor may provide personal advice, professional advice, or both. One useful definition of mentorship is “a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to career or personal development.”[1]

Research has proven that mentorship works. A 1977 study of executives found that ones with mentors earn more money at a younger age, are better educated, are more likely to follow a career plan, and are more likely to mentor others.[2] Perhaps more importantly, the same study found that the executives with mentors reported greater career satisfaction. With the help of good mentors I have been able to increase my academic productivity, connect with other professionals, identify useful resources for achieving my goals, and develop my leadership and clinical skills through role-modeling.

What makes a good mentor? One study identified that good mentors are active listeners who can analyze their mentee’s strengths and assist with setting and achieving goals.[3,4] I’ve found that my most effective mentors are those who are accessible, knowledgeable, honest with constructive feedback, respected in their field, eager to share new opportunities for scholarship and leadership, and most importantly, care about me on a personal level. I have benefited from having mentors who were family, friends, former teachers, physicians from other specialties, and colleagues with both more and less experience than me. Finally, I’ve learned that one mentor is not enough. Mentors have their own strengths and areas of expertise and so I’ve used different mentors to work towards goals in the various areas of my professional and personal life.

Having benefited from the mentoring process, I have recently started serve as a mentor. I have found great joy knowing that I have helped my mentees progress and succeed. And I am not alone, as research corroborates my feeling. One meta-analysis found that serving as a mentor was associated with greater perceived career success, job performance, job satisfaction, and more perceived connectedness to one’s organization.[5]

Both having effective mentors and serving as a mentor to others may be one way to improve resilience and decrease physician burnout. Seeing the excitement in the eyes of a mentee starting their career in emergency medicine helps me realize that it is a great privilege to be an EP and reminds me of how much I have growth through mentoring.


  1. Bozeman, B and Feeney, MK (2007) Toward a Useful Theory of Mentoring: A Conceptual Analysis and Critique. Administration and Society, 39, 719-739.
  2. Roche, G. R. (1979). Much ado about mentors. Harvard Business Review, 57, 14-28.
  3. Williams LL, Levine JB, Malhotra S, et al (2004). The good-enough mentoring relationship. Acad Psychiatry, 28, 111-5.
  4. Yeung M, Nuth J, STiell IG. (2010). Mentoring in Emergency Medicine: The Art and the Evidence. Canadian Journal of Emergency Medicine, 12(2), 143-9.
  5. Ghosh, R. & Reio, T.G. (2013). Career benefits associated with mentoring for mentors: A meta-analysis. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 83, 106-116.
  6. Johnson, BW (2007). On Being a Mentor: A Guide for Higher Education. Faculty. 2nd Edition. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Print.