What Makes a Good Mentor?

Think back on your greatest challenges, life transitions, and accomplishments. Chances are, there were people, mentors who opened your mind to new possibilities, helped you find your courage, bolstered you when you were discouraged, or simply stood as a model of who you wanted to become.

Mentors are called “learning coaches.” This is an apt definition. While mentoring is often in service of a particular result—navigating a new environment or challenge—its purpose is learning. Mentorship may result in a lifelong relationship or be a brief “one-off” focused on a specific topic. Data from the business and academic worlds show that young people who engage with a mentor earn more money at a younger age and are more satisfied with their career progress.

A good mentor has experience and interest in the area in question, listens well to what his mentee is saying and asking for, and has the courage to be honest—about himself and his mentee. Mentoring is not the act of showing what we know, but rather the art of guiding the mentee to learn more about what will make him succeed. As physicians, if our patient struggles, we find an easier or more successful way.

As mentors, we want our mentee to struggle. We want her to come up against obstacles and see what holds her back. We then encourage her to find ways to use her strengths to overcome those obstacles. We might suggest another person to contact or an article to read. We pose questions to help her find another solution. A good mentor is honest about his own challenges and shares how he approached them. His authenticity is the key to his effectiveness as a mentor.

Finding a mentor is as simple as identifying someone who has the experience you want to learn and asking for their mentorship. Mentor and mentee then negotiate the conditions under which they will interact. Monthly? Quarterly? Who brings the agenda? The importance of asking these types of questions cannot be overstated, as the essential trusting relationship will grow only from honoring the needs and wishes of both people.

Each of us has much to offer the next generation of phlebologists. We have experience dealing with patients, technical expertise, and perhaps insights into running a business. Even more important, we have wisdom earned by creating a fulfilling life while having a demanding and ever-changing career.

Mentoring is not a time-consuming, draining affair, but one in which we derive great benefit from the relationship with our mentee. Our struggles take on greater meaning when others learn from them. And while we may not be giants, others can move our field even further than we have by standing on our shoulders.

We thus extend our own legacy through their actions. And working with a mentee offers us new information, new perspectives, and a burst of enthusiasm, much like watching a child discover the world, which can reinvigorate our own career.