Chair's Column: Mentorship: Results from the 2017 Faculty Survey

May 1, 2018
Dr. Gillian Hawker
Gillian HawkerHere in the Department of Medicine, our people are our most precious resource. It’s important, therefore, that we foster and support faculty members’ careers at all stages. At the heart of ensuring our faculty thrive personally and professionally is mentorship. We know from the literature that faculty advancement, research productivity, overall well-being and job satisfaction all have ties back to successful mentorship. Effective mentors have been shown not only to enhance the productivity and success of their mentees, but also enhance career satisfaction for both mentors and mentees alike. Therefore, ensuring that we have effective mentorship opportunities for our faculty is of critical importance.

Formal mentorship programs exist in many academic health sciences centers and departments, including ours. Each year at continuing faculty appointment review, CFAR, we witness the value of successful mentor-mentee relationships – and the difficulties that may ensure for those lack them. To gain greater understanding of the role that mentorship plays in developing and enhancing our faculty members, the 2017 Faculty Survey assessed:

  • The proportion and characteristics of faculty members were receiving or providing mentorship; and,
  • Faculty members’ satisfaction with: a) the quality and quantity of mentorship and mentorship training; and b) with the level of recognition of mentorship in the Department of Medicine.

Who has a mentor?

Percentage of DOM faculty members with a mentor, rated by rank.Approximately half of our faculty (47%) reporting having a formal mentor, while more than three quarters (76%) reported having an informal mentor. There was, however, variability in responses across the divisions. Interestingly, regardless of their job description, women faculty members were more likely to report having a formal mentor than their male counterparts, and assistant professors and younger faculty were more likely to report having a formal mentor than those at a higher rank or later stages of career, respectively. Compared with 2015 Faculty Survey responses, more faculty members are benefitting from mentorship now than before. This is encouraging and hopefully reflects the major efforts that have been put towards mentorship in the past few years.

In 2015, we established the DOM’s Mentorship, Equity and Diversity (MED) portfolio. Through this portfolio, and under the direction of Vice-Chair for MED, Dr. Sharon Straus, we’ve developed the role of divisional mentorship facilitators to help identify faculty mentors and support the mentoring relationships. The committee has also established mentorship workshops, and the requirement to identify a formal mentor as part of the University appointment process. This is a good start.

Satisfaction with mentorship

Although only 47% reported having a formal mentor, 66% and 55% of faculty respondents indicated that they are somewhat or strongly satisfied with the quality and quantity, respectively, of mentorship provided by the department. This has also improved since 2015, where the proportion was 45% for both responses.

Who are our mentors?

Two in five faculty respondents (40%) reported that they provide formal mentorship. Of these, 33% had received mentorship training and 55% indicated that they would like training, including some of those who had received some training already. One of the priorities for the MED committee is to provide resources for our mentors. Take a look at the Mentorship Resources available on the DOM website, and feel free to contact your divisional Mentorship Facilitator for advice and direction.

Valuing our mentors

The survey results indicate that we should do more to recognize the contributions of our mentors. Only half of the faculty respondents reported that they were satisfied with the degree to which mentorship contributions are recognized in our department, at the hospital, divisional, research institute and University levels.

Effects of mentoring

We examined the relationship of mentorship quality and quantity to career satisfaction, burnout and collaboration. Among those who reported having a formal mentor, higher quality mentorship was associated with less burnout, greater career satisfaction, increased opportunities for research, and greater confidence reporting incivility. These findings underscore the importance of mentorship and the need to continue to foster successful mentor-mentee relationships among our faculty.

Comments on mentorship

The 107 open-ended comments provided by faculty members about mentorship gave us additional insight into what’s working and what could be working better. Most commonly, we heard that faculty members had found it difficult to establish and/or maintain a mentorship relationship (n=49). Indeed, several faculty members indicated they had asked for mentorship, but it had not materialized. Others said they did not have a formal mentor because they were “too old” or had “strong informal mentorship already” (n=35). There was also some confusion expressed with regards to the difference between formal and informal mentorship.

The Oxford Dictionary defines a ‘mentor’ as an experienced and trusted counselor, while Wikipedia describes mentorship as “…a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and psychosocial support…over a defined period of time between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the protégé)”. Given this, the best mentors are generally those who have succeeded at achieving the mentees goals, has integrity, has enough and will make time for the mentee, and whose expectations match that of the mentees. Whether mentorship is provided formally or informally, these definitions apply. For our purposes in the DoM, the formal mentor is simply the one person who is held accountable for ensuring that mentorship is available to any particular mentee.

What about mentee-ship?

We did not ask our faculty mentors their perceptions of their mentees. Mentorship is a two way street of course! In November 2017, Drs. Vinny Chopra and Sanjay Saint published a nice paper entitled “What Mentors Wish Their Mentees Knew” (of note, Dr. Saint will be our keynote speaker for Annual Day 2018). In this paper, they describe the mentor-mentee relationship as “…a tango between a more senior person and a junior one. Just as in dance, coordination and orchestration between parties is necessary for grace and success”.

They note that while lots has been written about the ideal mentor, there is much less out there about what makes a great mentee. They suggest that ideal mentees have the following attributes:

  • The mentee is clear about what s/he needs from the mentor;
  • The mentee chooses the mentor wisely – see above;
  • The mentee under-promises and over-delivers;
  • The mentee is respectful of the mentor’s time;
  • The mentee is aware of their strengths, as well as their weaknesses; and finally,
  • The mentee is engaged and energizing.

Based on my own experiences as a mentor and mentee, I’d like to add a couple of other mentee attributes that are helpful:

  • The mentee takes responsibility for checking in regularly with the mentor; and,
  • The mentee is comfortable asking for the mentor’s advice and at least reflecting on what the mentor has to say.


The 2017 survey has identified the following areas to target if we are to fully realize the benefits of successful mentorship in our department:

  1. Mentorship skills development;
  2. Ensuring our mentors have access to the resources they need to be most effective;
  3. Enhancing clarity about the expectations and responsibilities of mentors and mentees and what to do when the mentor-mentee relationship isn’t working;
  4. Ensuring that where needed, appropriate mentorship is also available for mid- and senior-career faculty members; and,
  5. Demonstrating how much we as a department values our mentors, such as in promotion.

From my own experience, I know how valuable mentors are, and how rewarding it is to be a mentor. The DOM is a strong department, and enhancing and encouraging effective mentorship can only make it stronger.

Many thanks to Drs. Robert Wu and Sharon Straus for their contributions to this column.