Mentoring is a core mission for our Association of Academic Physiatrists. It is the first mission in our tag line. Although the Merriam-Webster dictionary clearly defines mentoring as “to serve as a mentor” and mentor as “a trusted counselor or guide,”1 the art of mentoring may mean different things to the mentor and the mentee. In the summer 2019 issue of Physiatry Forward, the importance of mentoring is discussed from the vantage point of Professor Sam S. H. Wu who has counseled learners over the past several decades and that of Samantha C. Wu who is a student at the beginning of her medical career.
A close friend of mine recently remarked that she thought I had achieved a great deal personally and professionally. Her comment made me reflect how indeed I have reached where I am now in my personal life and career. I realized that there were many people over the years who have provided me with excellent advice, such as the importance of being present in the delivery room when my children were born, and how to settle into my first academic position. These individuals are my lifelong mentors. I also realized early in my career that I could never repay them directly for their kindness, and that one good way would be for me to honor them by striving to be a good mentor for others.
On this life journey, I learned that some mentoring methods worked while others did not. In my early years, I thought that treating mentees as family would be a pathway for success. This was not always the case as I soon found out. Many mentees did not expect to be treated as a son, daughter, brother or sister. Most of my mentees just wanted to have a trusted sounding board. Some have become my lifelong friends. I feel that this mentoring relationship is one of the most rewarding aspects of my career.
Great advice from a mentor can be a valuable or even life-changing gift. However, I sometimes find it difficult to be open to advice when I disagree with the content, delivery, or both. The best mentors are the ones who have mastered the art of listening. Trust is fundamental in mentoring relationships. When I trust that I will not be judged by my mentor, I am more likely to be open, which then facilitates understanding and growth. As a mentee, I strive to emulate my mentors who are my role models. By doing so, I hope to pass on these gifts that I have received to those who come after me.
Consider the following suggestions in developing a mutually rewarding mentoring relationship:
- Listening is an important skill to master
- Get to know your mentee before giving advice
- If possible, adapt communication style to the needs of your mentee at that moment in his/her life
- Provide examples from your experience without demanding that the mentee do the same
- Keep in mind to not relive your life through your mentee
- Avoid temptation to prove you are correct
- Remember the mentee is not your child
- Do not take offense if advice is not heeded