Mentoring: Guiding Principles for Mentors

Your extraordinary accomplishments and contributions to the University of Arizona and academic medicine are strongly regarded and thus, we recognize your potential to serve as a mentor. Your participation is very much appreciated and we thank you in advance for your time, and understanding how critical of a role mentoring to the recruitment and retention of faculty.

Overall, the quality time spent guiding our faculty will allow you to reap the rewards of improved career satisfaction, academic productivity, professional socialization, and creating a legacy of your own. Undoubtedly, your participation will advance the department’s goals to develop and nurture our faculty. Philosophy and concepts from John Hopkins School of Medicine, University of California - San Francisco, and recent academic literature regarding mentoring in academic medicine[1] have been thoroughly considered, and specifically adapted for this program, departmental size, structure, and culture. As such, the following guidelines and expectations have been compiled into one cohesive resource designed to initiate and support you in your role as mentor.

Preparing for Your Role

Advisor or Mentor: Is There a Difference?

In practice, yes, there is a difference. An advisor is an assigned person with specialized knowledge who delivers necessary and pertinent information at the request of an individual. They often are tasked to monitor progress. In stark contrast, a mentor is one with a proven track record of leadership and success, and who serves as a combination of teacher, guide and advocate. Mentors take on the responsibility of seeing out the growth and development of an individual. The exchange between individuals consists of an interplay that is more personal in nature.[2]

As a mentor, you should plan to share your experiences, perspective, and strategies for success in academia. Share critical incidents, challenges, decision-making processes, actions you took, and articulate why and how it could be relevant to them. You are not purely an information dispenser, parent or supervisor. You are colleague entrusted with their career development.

You should care about the difference because too often mentors do not understand how their department defines the difference. Defining what this means to our participants and what we expect clarifies your role and allows you to move forward with confidence.

Know Your Stuff!

Not only are mentees eager to learn from you in the realm of medicine, but they are eager to learn the approaches to success and navigation within the socio-professional context of the department, college and university. As such, mentees must rely on your knowledge of several topics to make informed decisions (e.g., promotion). Do the research and consult with others for updated structures and processes. Also, gain cognizance of appropriate and possible opportunities available for mentees.

Be Open to Learning

Working within the traditional conceptualization of the mentor-mentee relationship can give rise to the assumption that it is only a hierarchical dynamic. In this case, discourse can easily fall into a one-way, top-down path. Openness toward learning from those we guide and lead, however, can sometimes add refreshing or alternative insight that can equalize this dynamic. Such openness could provide you with some spice for your own approaches toward professional matters.

Getting Started

There are several ways you can connect to a potential mentee. Below are a few options:

  • Complete a brief electronic “Interest” form with the Education Office.
  • Authorize the Education Office to upload your professional profile to our password protected mentor match database. Profiles can only be viewed by those enrolled in the Department of Medicine program.
  • Get the word out at your section meetings or electronic communication that you are open to mentorship.

The First Meeting

Requests and Scheduling

Studies have shown that partnerships work best when the mentee selects their mentor and manages the partnership. As such, approaching and requesting mentorship is initiated by the mentee. The onus of scheduling the first and subsequent meetings is also on your mentee. Potential mentees may contact you via email, phone or in-person. If you have provided your information to the Education Office and authorized an online professional profile for use on the Mentor Match software, a potential mentee may research you, assess possible compatibility/shared interests, and later contact you via email for a request for mentorship. Please carefully assess your commitments and accept and/or decline professionally. 

Expectations & Accountability to Each Other: The Agreement

(If you haven’t already received these, check with the Department of Medicine Education Office for copies of “First Session Guide to Success” and the “Academic Activity Plan.”)

At the first meeting, we encourage partnerships to utilize the “Guide to Success” to give the initial interaction direction and purpose. The mentee is expected to provide these documents for reference and be prepared to discuss. The purpose of this meeting is to familiarize yourself with the professional goals of the mentee. This form will remain with the mentee so they can track and assess their progress throughout the year. This guide will ultimately serve as the official agreement between each partnership and terms for confidentiality, closure or continuance of the partnership.

When working through the agreement, be sure to set realistic expectations for yourself! Most importantly, relate how your expectations and those of your mentees relate or don’t. As you enter into agreement with your mentee realize that this is you formally committing to this individual, and whether you hold up to your end of the agreement will impact their career trajectory and experience here. If you are going to engage in mentoring, do it with quality. Of course, the same applies to your mentee.

Working through the Partnership

ABCs of Mentoring

In your role as mentor there is an expectation that you offer purposeful guidance based on the mentee’s self-vision. Accordingly, there are some basics to career guidance that you should be aware of when engaging with your mentee:

  • Assess their skill, knowledge, and attitudes when offering advice.                                        
  • Allow them to fail at times.
  • Challenge them.
  • Be available when you say you will.
  • Introduce them to key contacts/possible collaborators.                                                                
  • Pay attention to their promotion.
  • Recognize them.                                                                                                                                
  • Tailor sessions to individual mentee.
  • Lead—don’t direct.
  • Set high standards and articulate them clearly.
  • Give constructive feedback in timely manner.                                                                                   
  • Be frank with opinions with your own perspective.
  • Foster open communication and be an active listener.
  • Collectively set goals and agenda for subsequent meetings.
  • Assist with creating and prioritizing their career plan.                                                              
  • Model professional behavior.
  • Discuss “survival skills.”                                                                                                                
  • Assist them with socio-political navigation.                                                            
  • Inform them of additional professional development opportunities.                                         
  • View them as a respected colleague.
  • Don’t seek to replicate yourself.
  • Don’t do the work for them.
  • Don’t be offended if they choose not to take your advice.                                                         
  • Don’t become best friends.    

Personal Reflection and Formal Evaluation

There will be two evaluations. First, you will have the opportunity to reflect on your experience with your mentee. You will receive a survey and set of prompt questions so can confidentially express your subjective experience. This is NOT an evaluation of the person you mentored and thus, a document that will follow the individual. Instead, this is an evaluation of your personal experience mentoring overall. Second, you will have the opportunity to annually assess the program itself (i.e., structure, available resources and support).


[1] Cho, C., Radhika, R., and Feldman, M. (2011). Defining the Ideal Qualities of Mentorship: A Qualitative Analysis of the characteristics of Outstanding Mentors. The American Journal of Medicine. Vol 124 (5), pp. 453-458.

Detsky, A. (2011). Academic Mentoring-How to Give It and How to Get It. Journal of American Medical Association Vol. 297 (19).

Sambunjak, D., Straus, S., and Marusie, A. (2006). Mentoring in Academic Medicine: A Systematic Review. Journal of American Medical Association. Vol. 6 (9).

Tobin, M. (2004). Mentoring: Seven Roles and Some Specifics. American Journal of Respiratory Critical Care Medicine. Vol 170, pp. 114-117.

Abbott, I. (2001). Working with a Mentor: 50 Practical Suggestions for Success. NALP.

[2] Tekian, A., Jalovecky, M., and Hruska, L. (2001).  The Impact of Mentoring and Advising At-risk Underrepresented Minority Students on Medical School Performance.  Academic Medicine: Educating Physicians 76 (12), pp. 1264.