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Education & Training
 DOI: 10.1176/appi.pn.2013.12a6
Mentoring Residents Often A Lesson in Chemistry
Psychiatric News
Volume 49 Number 1 page 1

Abstract

National prominence or “star power” doesn’t always correlate with being an effective mentor—what matters is the ability to make a connection with junior colleagues.

Abstract Teaser

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”—Benjamin Franklin

What transpires between an aspiring physician and a mentor is a relationship—and like any such relationship, it is not as much about imparting information as it is about an interpersonal chemistry that inspires the mentee to find his or her own path.

As many senior physicians can testify, a mentor can be the most important influence in a young physician’s career.

APA Director of Education Deborah Hales, M.D., said that for today’s young physicians, mentoring appears to be even more important than in previous generations. “The complexities of medicine today have created a real sea change in what young physicians are looking for,” she said. “The ‘millenials’ [individuals coming of age in the new century] want more structure and guidance than the earlier baby boomers did. Add to that the dramatic changes coming with health care reform, and we see that mentoring is a much more pressing issue.”

To address these needs, Hales said the Division of Education will be offering new opportunities—along with existing programs—to help residents, fellows, early career psychiatrists, and mentors find each other and develop relationships that can help young psychiatrists flourish. Among these are the following:

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So what makes for a good mentoring relationship?

Educational leaders who spoke with Psychiatric News agree that simply assigning senior faculty to a resident doesn’t always work well. “You can assign residents to an advisor who will oversee their evaluation and programmatic requirements, but mentoring is something different,” said Adam Brenner, M.D., director of residency training at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. “Certainly, it’s about professional development, but a mentor is also the person who can help you with all sorts of more personal developmental issues that are going to be necessary for career success.

Thoughts From a Clinician-Educator on Mentoring  

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By Geri Fox, M.D.

We are all frenetically busy. Still, taking the time to mentor a student, resident, or early career physician is one of my most gratifying activities. The best of these relationships often endure long after our professional lives have gone their separate ways, but even fleeting encounters have more impact than we realize. By caring about our students’ hopes and dreams, listening to where they are stuck, and helping them solve their struggles, we can help shape the knowledge, skills, and values of the next generation of physicians. We need to allow students to see how we practice and think about how we deal with challenges. Hopefully, if we are generous, our students will in turn pass on what they have received to their own students. I learned so much from my own mentor. I can sense that his spirit lives on through my own mentoring activities.

Geri Fox, M.D., is a professor of clinical psychiatry, assistant dean of graduate medical education, and director of medical student education in psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“There has to be a match in terms of the specific kinds of career success the resident is looking to achieve, whether it’s involvement in advocacy or research and publishing, or becoming a clinician educator,” Brenner said in an interview. “But there also has to be a match in personal chemistry. It’s a relationship between two people, one of whom is willing to be available as the mentee, while the other person is going to become personally invested in the mentee achieving his or her goals.”

He added that prominence or “star power” does not necessarily correlate with being an excellent mentor. “Residents will tend to know about the couple of prominent people in a department who have national reputations, but one of the things a program director can be really helpful with is pointing the resident toward other faculty who have the skills to be effective mentors. These are the people who know how to make a personal connection and can create an atmosphere that really stimulates thinking and dialogue.”

The most successful mentoring relationships are forged in the kind of unforced venue in which any fruitful relationship is formed. Sally De Golia, M.D., M.P.H., associate residency training director at Stanford University, said the psychiatry department there has initiated a successful and popular “Meet the Faculty” event at which residents and faculty gather in a casual environment featuring something that is ever-popular with residents—free food. “Every six weeks we have a dinner that is theme-based, with faculty who have expertise in the given theme,” she said. “One event was about women’s wellness, and we brought in faculty who specialize in women’s psychiatric issues. The faculty-to-resident ratio is highly in favor of faculty, so the residents have time to engage with a lot of senior psychiatrists to see whom they connect with.”

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De Golia said that much of residency is about being evaluated—but the mentor relationship exists outside and independent of that environment of constant grading and assessment. “Mentoring can be extremely effective at helping residents get a better sense of what they can accomplish,” she said. “It helps with their professional development, but mentors can also be invaluable in helping residents deal with work-life balance. And it’s a safe environment where the mentor can challenge the mentee. Chemistry is critical.”

De Golia said she hopes to develop a mentoring workshop to inform faculty about the skills they need to be an effective mentor, but also to teach residents what they should bring to the relationship. “Residents need to come prepared with an agenda and a clear idea about what kind of goals they want to achieve and what they want from a mentoring relationship.”

That’s critical, Brenner agreed, since a mentoring relationship cannot be one-sided. “Successful residents are not vague but are goal oriented and come to the mentoring relationship with explicit, concrete goals and ideas about what they want to achieve,” he said. ■

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