Effectively Leveraging Mentorship For Career Development

Jill Steiner, MD, FACC

Identifying opportunities, making the right choices, and doing the work are often thought of as the keys to success. As we start out as early career cardiologists, there is much to learn, and we must augment our knowledge with the wisdom of others. This wisdom may exist in those who have come before us or in those growing alongside us with different perspectives to share. It is for this reason that developing strong mentor relationships is essential.

A good mentor is a phenomenal resource. Regardless of your specific career path, effective mentorship can fuel bountiful career development. However, the foundational success of the mentor-mentee relationship is the responsibility of the mentee. Remembering a few central principles will guide you in this process.

1. Be an active participant in the relationship.

Arrive with a plan, remain engaged and enthusiastic, and display integrity and responsibility. Finish what you start and try not to cut corners. Mentors dedicate precious hours to us that they could have put toward their own goals, so we should remember to use this gift wisely. A mentoring relationship should be symbiotic, motivated by trust and mutual respect. You are working together to reach a shared goal. If you are only taking, but not contributing, the relationship will not survive.

2. Get to know your mentor.

When we approach a potential mentor, we bring with us certain knowledge and assumptions about that person, influenced by our needs and our view of their accomplishments. Remember to learn about their work and their interests from their perspective, too. How they got to where they are is only part of the story – hearing about their future career goals and plans to accomplish them is equally important. Seeing how they interact with their colleagues can provide insight into their approach and management style, and being aware of concurrent commitments can help you plan around upcoming challenges.

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3. Maintain open communication.

Early on and at intervals, learn about each other's short- and long-term goals and expectations for the mentoring relationship. If you find your priorities changing, or if you suspect your mentor's have, discuss this rather than avoid each other. Be honest and articulate your needs, but also recognize that your mentor is not there to solve all your problems. We may not always want to hear what our mentors have to say, but we must expect and accept constructive feedback. When possible, bring potential solutions to the table and work through issues together.

4. Schedule regular meetings.

How often you interact with your mentor may depend on their specific role in your career development and what work you are currently doing. But you should maintain regular check-ins where you can catch up, discuss progress and challenges, and make plans. At least quarterly, and maybe monthly, find a time that works for both your schedules and set recurring meetings. It is easier to cancel a meeting if not needed rather than schedule one at the last minute. What you discuss may vary but having pre-scheduled meetings will help keep you on-task and accountable.

5. Use your time together wisely.

Whether it is a check-in over coffee, a formal mentorship session or a critique of a presentation, have a plan for when you meet with your mentor. This not only demonstrates your dedication to and respect for the relationship, it also helps you gain the perspective you seek. Try to be specific in your "ask" for the session – do you want to review progress, address a challenge or receive advice? Does your mentor want to discuss a specific issue? Create an agenda for the meeting and share it with your mentor a few days ahead of time so they have time to think about their response. And before ending the meeting, identify action items to be accomplished prior to your next meeting.

Finally, acknowledge and thank your mentors for the time and effort they spend on helping you grow. Mentor relationships are most successful when they are collaborative. Whether you have one mentor or many, I hope you find these tips useful for you to accomplish your goals.

Jill Steiner, MD, FACC

This article was authored by Jill Steiner, MD, FACC, acting instructor, University of Washington. Twitter: @steiner_md

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