The Value of Mentorship

by Allyson R. Alfonso, BS, BA1 and Ira L. Savetsky, MD2

Medical Student, NYU School of Medicine; Pre-Doctoral Research Fellow, Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery, NYU Langone Health

2Plastic Surgery Resident, Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery, NYU Langone Health 


Mentorship has been defined as “a dynamic, reciprocal relationship in a work environment between an advanced career incumbent (mentor) and a beginner (protégé) aimed at promoting the career development of both.”1 The result of mentorship for the mentee can be viewed as a constellation; the process creates interconnectedness between people of all walks of life, whose guidance and experiences come together to serve a larger purpose, a navigation tool. One of my own mentors explained mentorship in this context, highlighting the point that I think is most often missed when discussing mentorship: the big picture beyond any individual mentor or mentee – the development of a professional.

Mentorship is a popular topic of discussion for all levels of medical training and beyond. It was even an editorial in the first PRS issue of this year! Ramanadham and Rohrich emphasize the importance of mentors for young plastic surgeons, noting a mentorship gap that is often encountered in this critical transition from residency training.2 Objective analysis of medical student mentorship in the perspective of both the mentor and mentee has also been reported.3,4 It is, however, important to realize from the outset that neither mentors nor mentees are perfect in their roles. Some form of “mentorship malpractice”5 and “mentee missteps”6 may be present in almost every mentor-mentee relationship and should be addressed. The subsequent thoughts are therefore neither universal nor foolproof, but they are lessons I have learned during medical school as both a mentee and peer mentor. Hopefully they will be helpful to those seeking mentor-mentee relationships.

  1. Anyone can be a mentor– including you! There is no such thing as the perfect mentor one must have to succeed. There are, however, qualities that make a good mentor and you should find the right fit and style of mentoring for you.
  2. Mentors do not appear magically. You must take ownership of your own career trajectory and seek opportunities to meet mentors. A survey of medical student mentorship in plastic surgery found that mentor-mentee relationships are most commonly initiated by medical students reaching out to faculty.3, 4 
  3. Mentor-mentee relationships are reciprocal. A mentor does not exist without a mentee and neither does a mentee without a mentor. Mentors and mentees must complement each other, and both should see benefit in the mentor-mentee relationship. This means that with mentorship comes responsibility and commitment, not only to pay it back to your mentors, but also to pay it forward to your peers and younger students looking to embark on a similar journey.
  4. You are not limited to one mentor. There is clear benefit to hearing multiple perspectives from different mentors at varying points in their own careers. It is then your job to compile the advice and make decisions that are best for you. 
  5. Diversity in available mentors is not always present, but we’re getting there. The plastic surgery community is certainly becoming more diverse. In the meantime, however, don’t allow this to be a barrier to the pursuit of your passion; there is value in the experiences and advice of those whose backgrounds are similar, but also those whose are different from yours. Recently this topic has been highlighted in studies regarding the presence of women in plastic surgery.2, 7, 8 Fortunately, the field has upheld a longstanding commitment to the recruitment of women, and continued efforts should promote diversity and inclusion in plastic surgery. For more discussion, look out for a future post on women in plastic surgery.

Bottom line: mentorship is invaluable. It is an ever-present and active process at all stages of life that takes time and commitment, but it will surely prove to be both meaningful and fundamental to your career in plastic surgery. So, step out of your comfort zone, introduce yourself to several attendings, residents or students, and get started!

References

1.         Healy CC, Welchert AJ. Mentoring Relations: A Definition to Advance Research and Practice. Educational Researcher. 1990;19(9):17-21.

2.         Ramanadham SR, Rohrich RJ. Mentorship: A Pathway to Succeed in Plastic Surgery. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2019;143(1):353-5.

3.         Janis JE, Barker JC. Medical Student Mentorship in Plastic Surgery: The Mentor’s Perspective. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2016;138(5):925e-35e.

4.         Barker JC, Rendon J, Janis JE. Medical Student Mentorship in Plastic Surgery: The Mentee’s Perspective. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2016;137(6):1934-42.

5.         Chopra V, Edelson DP, Saint S. A PIECE OF MY MIND. Mentorship Malpractice. JAMA. 2016;315(14):1453-4.

6.         Vaughn V, Saint S, Chopra V. Mentee Missteps: Tales From the Academic Trenches. JAMA. 2017;317(5):475-6.

7.         Plana NM, Khouri KS, Motosko CC, Stern MJ, Anzai L, Poudrier G, et al. The Evolving Presence of Women in Academic Plastic Surgery: A Study of the Past 40 Years. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2018;141(5):1304-10.

8.         Silva AK, Preminger A, Slezak S, Phillips LG, Johnson DJ. Melting the Plastic Ceiling: Overcoming Obstacles to Foster Leadership in Women Plastic Surgeons. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2016;138(3):721-9.

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