Faculty Mentoring Guide

This booklet was compiled as a guide to encourage mentoring activities at the School of Medicine on the Medical College of Virginia Campus of Virginia Commonwealth University. It is not meant to be a formalized program, but rather a series of suggestions based on research concerning mentoring in health care, academia and business. Mentoring is a highly interactive process and requires strong commitment from both the mentor/guide and the mentee/protégé. Also necessary is serious commitment to mentoring from divisions, departments and the institution's administration. This handbook is one of many steps to foster such commitment at our university.

This guide is designed to help you in several ways. It will:

  • help you determine if you are in a position to be a mentor;
  • describe the rewards associated with the undertaking;
  • offer direction on how to seek a mentor and why you should do so whether you are a clinician, basic scientist, researcher, teacher, administrator or combination thereof;
  • provide a checklist of qualities to look for when seeking a mentor or a mentee;
  • offer alternatives to traditional mentoring;
  • offer suggestions for departments and divisions in devising mentoring programs;
  • point out potential obstacles to mentoring;
  • provide template forms to assess need and monitor mentoring relationships;
  • offer additional resources for more detailed information on mentoring.

Mentoring Past, Present and Future

Since the days of the Trojan War, we have many accounts of mentoring in fact and fiction, science, medicine, business, education and law. Most of us can recall some famous mentor/mentee pairs: Socrates and Plato, Haydn and Beethoven, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller, Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead. In each of these cases, a "senior" person who had garnered respect and an amount of prestige and power within her/his field, took a "junior" person under the wing to teach, encourage and provide an extra push to ensure that junior individual's success. Not inconsequentially, the success of the junior person ultimately reflected on the senior person, further adding to her/his prestige.

"[Mentoring] is one of the major processes through which scholars replace themselves and through which flexibility or openness to ideas and creativity or the manipulation of phenomena can be maintained.
A. Hinshaw 36

Different types of relationships are possible between a junior and a senior professional in an academic setting:

  • Those assigned by the institution (the adviser, tutor, or preceptor) and
  • Those chosen by the learner (the role model or the mentor).

Institutionally assigned roles customarily assume the relationship to be a strictly professional one: the senior person ensures that the junior person completes institutional requirements, is progressing appropriately in his or her field of study and has the knowledge necessary to achieve career success.31

Relationships chosen by the learner often involve a personal element in addition to professional guidance. A role model, for example, can provide a "vision" of a practicing professional who functions in a real world context.31 The real world is not simply what we see from 8 to 5; it also involves the integration of personal life with professional life. The role model is usually chosen because of acknowledged status within a field and perceived competence in dealing with the challenges in his or her profession. The role model is not, however, necessarily a senior person. He or she may be a peer, and the similar age and background one of the main factors involved in the relationship.

Mentors, however, are almost always senior persons within their fields. They are chosen specifically for their ability to use the power of their positions and experience to develop the careers of those less powerful and experienced. A mentor has moved beyond preoccupation with self to foster the growth of a developing professional.

The precise definition of "mentor" is difficult to pin down, but in his book The Seasons of a Man's Life, David Levinson wrote that the mentoring relationship is one of the "most complex and developmentally important" in a person's life. Levinson did not see the relationship in formal terms, such as "teacher/student" or "boss/subordinate," but rather in terms of its character and its functions. Several functions are considered integral in the mentoring relationship: teaching, sponsoring, guidance, socialization into a profession, provision of counsel and moral support. Of all of these, Levinson believed that the most important function of a mentor was assisting in the realization of a dream.18

The relationship is, at its most fundamental, a multifaceted collaboration between a junior professional and a senior professional with the primary goal being the nurturing of the junior professional's development.30 In virtually every profession imaginable, a mentoring relationship is considered an excellent route toward ensuring not only a profession's vitality, but growth of the workers within that profession. Since the days of guilds, we have recognized the synergy of the "master/novice" combination. Many industrial professions still use the apprenticeship model. In 1979, the business world turned its attention to revitalizing the concept of mentoring when an article in the Harvard Business Review reported that mentored executives earn more money at a younger age, are better educated and more likely to follow initial career goals, and enjoy greater career satisfaction.29

In health care, the concept of mentoring has traditionally been restricted to the teacher/medical student, graduate student or resident relationship. Emerging research on medical university faculty development is casting new light on mentoring as it relates to promotion, professional growth and tenure in academia. The results of the studies are sobering, especially in reference to women and minority faculty. Increases in numbers of women and minority physicians in no way guarantees them equal access to leadership positions.

In 19963,12 and again in 2001,43 national studies of women in U.S. academic medicine performed by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) indicate:

  • The proportion of full-time medical school women faculty increased from 25% in 1996 to 28% in 2001.
  • In 1996, 21% of all associate professors were women and 10% of all full professors were women, and in 2001, the numbers are up a small percentage: 24% and 12% respectively.
  • Also in 1996, on average, a medical school employed only 17 women full professors, including nontenured and basic sciences faculty, compared to 158 men full professors per school. By 2001, on average, there are still only 23 women full professors per medical school compared to 166 men at this rank. This translates to about one woman full professor per department.

These statistics are particularly interesting in light of the fact that women in 2001 comprise close to half of medical students (45.8%) and instructors (46%), and in 2000, 38% of residents.

A 1990 survey of male and female medical students, house staff and faculty conducted at the University of California, San Francisco indicated:

  • 45% of women faculty said they had never had a mentor, compared with 8% of the male faculty — males noted positive mentoring relationships three times as often as female faculty.27

A 1991 study of mentor relationships in academic medicine found:

  • White faculty are more likely than minority faculty to have a mentoring relationship;
  • Women with mentors have more publications in peer reviewed journals, spend more time in research, and report greater career satisfaction.19

Certainly such research indicates that women and minority faculty could benefit from the assistance of a senior professional who would protect the interests and guide the career path of these junior professionals so that they may achieve success in their own right. We maintain that all junior faculty could benefit from the presence of a mentor; of course, the rewards are great for the mentor, too.

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VCU School of Medicine

Virginia Commonwealth University | School of Medicine | Faculty Mentoring Guide
carol.hamptonl@vcu.edu | Updated 03.05.02