Issues in the Mentor–Mentee Relationship in Academic Medicine: A Qualitative Study

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Abstract

Purpose

To explore the phenomenon of the mentor–mentee relationship and to characterize this relationship among people who have obtained early career support from a government funding agency, in order to facilitate the development of future mentorship programs.

Method

A qualitative study was completed involving clinician scientists who were awarded early career support from a provincial funding agency (Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) and their mentors. Individual, semistructured interviews were completed, and transcripts of interviews were analyzed using a grounded theory approach.

Results

Interviews with 21 population health or clinician investigators (mentees) and seven mentors were completed from October to December 2006. Several themes were identified including the experience with mentorship, experience of being assigned a mentor versus self-identification, roles of a mentor, characteristics of good mentoring, barriers to mentorship, and possible mentorship strategies. Participants believed mentorship to be important, but several experienced significant difficulty with finding mentors and establishing productive relationships.

Conclusions

Challenges exist within academic medicine around ensuring that clinician scientists receive appropriate mentorship. Strategies to enhance the mentorship process were identified, including the development of formal mentorship initiatives, the creation of workshops organized by funding agencies in partnership with universities, and the development and evaluation of a mentorship training initiative for mentors and mentees. These findings can be applied to any academic health sciences institution.

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