​Given the complexity of the field of medicine, mentorship is essential. Good mentors are critical to ensure we continue to have good physicians, researchers and scientists.

  • Mentorship brings benefits for both the mentors and those receiving mentoring
  • A mentor teaches more than just practical skills and a good mentor upholds universal values

Excerpt from Editorial in Annals, Academy of Medicine Singapore, July 2015, Vol. 44 No. 7

By Prof Victor Dzau, President, Institute of Medicine, USA & James B. Duke Professor of Medicine, Duke University and Prof Soo Khee Chee, Deputy CEO (Research & Education), SingHealth; Director, National Cancer Centre Singapore & Vice-Dean of Clinical and Faculty Affairs, Duke-NUS

Why does mentorship matter?

Studies have shown that for those who had mentors, there were greater objective (e.g. pay, salary growth) and subjective (e.g. career satisfaction and commitment) career outcomes. Those who received mentoring also showed better perception of their work environment and work-life balance.

A mentor is not just an educator who teaches medical knowledge but a role model who demonstrates medical professionalism, befriends, advises and inspires.

What’s in it for mentors?

Mentors gain in many ways. For example, mentors with good reputations naturally attract talent who wish to work with them. This can lead to a mutual learning experience.

The most important benefit, however, is the chance for mentors to give back. Most successful doctors would agree that they received help in the course of their career.

Giving back to the organisation allows mentors to help invest in the future of the profession.

What mentors should teach – the science and beyond

Mentors can help mentees learn both practical and soft skills.

Practical skills include responsibility and ethics, grant and funding navigation for scientific investigations.

Beyond the science, mentors can help mentees navigate the health system and politics. Other soft skills include career guidance based on the mentors’ assessment of their mentees’ abilities and preferences.

As role models, mentors can offer advice on organisational planning. Leadership and management skills are also essential for the running of a successful healthcare organisation or AMC.

What makes a good mentor?

A good mentor must uphold certain universal values.

The first is patient welfare. The conviction to help patients sustains many mentors’ lifelong commitment towards nurturing the next generation.

The next critical value is intellectual nimbleness without arrogance.  Only without arrogance can one truly benefit from lifelong learning and consistent progress.

Mentors must have a spirit of generosity. They must want their mentees to succeed and would relentlessly support their mentees’ endeavours.

Good mentors also believe in meritocracy. They can see beyond visible measures (e.g. family background, academic results) and spot the passion and potential in their mentees.

Fostering an ecosystem for mentorship

Recognising the value of mentorship, many AMCs and institutions have put in place mentorship initiatives and programmes.

For example, at SingHealth Duke-NUS AMC, AMRI recently launched an Individual Development Plan programme for clinician scientists and researchers. This mentorship programme looks at developing individualised plans for individuals based on their goals and strengths, then links them up with mentors and programmes to support them.

It is indeed time for all to invest in mentorship.

Prof Victor Dzau
Prof Soo Khee Chee