From Mentee to Mentor: Wise Advice We Cannot Forget

"Don't be normal. Be an example" – Tim Tebow

The journey from fellowship to attending brings about more responsibility and the opportunity to be an example to those still in training. With this amplified ability to influence others, it becomes important to understand how to not only pursue one's own aspirations as an early career clinician, but how to help those looking up to you. One of my mentors consistently remarked that it is important to "diagnose the learner" and understand how to adapt to their style. And to this day, this is the approach I like to take.

Rather than discussing the general attributes important to being a good mentor as an academic cardiologist, we will take the approach of diagnosing the learner and visit the contemporary needs of a mentee – as told by a mentee himself. In this interview, Antonio Lewis, MD, highlights the attributes and important pieces that he and his fellowship class collectively hope to see in their own mentors, allowing us as early career academic cardiologists to adapt our own mentoring styles to that of those whom we mentor.

What do you feel is the importance of mentors in medicine?

I like to read and learn on my own, but the amount of knowledge that I can gather when I'm seeing patients and rounding with an attending physician can never be replaced by a book or a review article. Even when I have prepared and studied a subject independently, the insights I get from a mentor are immense! When I'm listening to the thought processes of one of my mentors, I'm not only learning from the medical facts they know, but from how they think, what they've seen, the experiences they've had, the mistakes they've learned from and the times they have gone through the cycle of trial and error. Not only is the learning happening from a medical standpoint, but a good mentor shows you what is possible – that despite the long hours, the sleepless nights and all the struggles, things will get better, families can live happily ever after, children can be raised in an environment with less financial difficulties, and that patient-doctor relationships will continue to strengthen over time. The value that a good mentor adds to the learning of a junior physician simply cannot be quantified.

What do you look for in a mentor?

An ideal mentor for me is a person that I can really relate to, someone that I can see myself turn into in the future. And it not only includes a role model from a clinical and medical standpoint, but mentors can also demonstrate to their mentees how to be better listeners for our patients, how to show empathy and care, how to address the rest of the healthcare workers in our system with respect, how to be better fathers and sons by managing work hours efficiently, how to be better researchers, and to always be hungry for new knowledge. Mentors should also know how to profile their mentees, they should recognize who is capable of performing in different situations, who needs encouragement and who they need to be hands-off with and respect autonomy. Most importantly, communication is key, and mentors should avoid implicit bias and understand that it takes skill to mentor trainees from diverse backgrounds.

Is there any way to educate your mentors?

A lot of people think that the mentor-mentee relationship is unidirectional, but that is not the case. One of the things that I like to discuss with my mentors is what I expect from them. For example, I like to let my mentors know that I want them to give me feedback, especially the things I need to work on. At times mentors are used to giving positive comments only, when what we learn from the most is the things that we can improve on. Encouragement is essential, and a few kind uplifting words is all we need at the end of the day to feel like we've really made a difference for our patients.

I would also encourage mentors to take some time to listen to their mentees and really get to know them. Most of the time we know who our mentors are, where they come from, what they have achieved, where they've worked and what they have discovered, and nothing feels better than knowing that your role models care about you and take the time to get to know you on a deeper level.

What if you feel like a mentor is not working for you?

Not all mentor-mentee relationships are meant to be, and it is OK to "break up" with your mentor. Our lives as doctors are very busy and it's understandable when someone cannot offer enough time for mentorship or simply the time together is not being as fructiferous as we would expect. Rather than letting this relationship drift off, an explicit dialogue explaining goals and expectations can either improve your relationship with your mentor or lead you to the mentorship guidance you really need from someone else.

As an academic cardiologist, mentorship remains an integral component of the position. It is ultimately a longitudinal, reciprocal, and collaborative relationship between two individuals. As Lewis highlights, it is important to understand the mentee as both a trainee and an individual person and tailor guidance based on those factors. As early career cardiologists, we can start building the future of medicine through these relationships.

This article was co-authored by Antonio Lewis, MD and David Snipelisky, MD, FACC, from the Department of Cardiology, Section of Heart Failure & Cardiac Transplant Medicine, at Cleveland Clinic in Weston, FL.

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