Faculty Mentoring Guide

Suggestions for Mentors: "Why be a Mentor?"


"Mentors are guides. They lead us along the journey of our lives. We trust them because they have been there before. They embody our hopes, cast light on the way ahead, interpret arcane signs, warn us of lurking dangers and point out unexpected delights along the way."
L.A. Daloz 9

As with many professions today, medicine and academia are being asked to do more with less. Medical faculty are required to juggle clinical duties with teaching and research requirements. On an average day, physicians see patients, teach students and residents, supervise some aspect of an ongoing grant, manage and administrate. The basic scientist's average day involves gathering data on current research grants, planning for the next grant application, advising graduate students, teaching medical, pharmacy, nursing or dental students and preparing manuscripts. Take on the added responsibility of advancing someone else's career? Who has time?

An age-old argument against mentoring has been that it is unnecessary if only the best and brightest faculty are recruited in the first place.11 The father of this argument, Franklin Mall, Chief of Anatomy at the Hopkins Medical School, promoted the method of teaching by not teaching, believing that individuals were responsible for their own learning.8 (One anecdotal story about Mall concerns his wife questioning him on how to bathe their first baby. He is said to have replied, "just throw her in the water and let her work out her own technique.")

Obviously this approach is limited in its appeal and utility. The argument behind this handbook is that mentoring is a developmental stage in one's professional life and since each developmental stage is crucial for growth, failure to serve as a mentor can lead to stagnation and internal conflict. By becoming a mentor, you have the opportunity to affect the future — you leave a part of yourself in everyone you mentor, your ideals, your ethics and your professionalism. Long after you've retired from the world of grants, publications, students and patients, your work will still be going on in those you've guided as a mentor.

What are some of the characteristics of a mentor? The answers are as varied as the definition of "mentor," but writers on the subject do point out some common characteristics that set a gold standard.10, 14, 16, 17, 21, 22, 36, 41

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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