Navigating a new career path can be daunting. This is especially true for junior doctors seeking to pursue competitive medical specialties. For prevocational doctors interested in anaesthesia it can be difficult to know how to excel in your anaesthetic rotation, how to position yourself strongly for a trainee position, and how to overcome obstacles you might experience along the way. Mentorship plays a critical role in the training and career development of junior doctors, and is a powerful tool that can assist doctors to navigate the turbulent journey from internship to specialty training. In this blog – we explore how to find (and keep) the right mentor, and the potential benefit this person can bring to your professional life.
Why have a mentor?
The process of mentorship has the potential to bring significant benefit to both the mentor and mentee. If you are interested in pursuing a career in anaesthesia, mentorship with a senior peer in critical care may be able to assist you in the following ways:
- General career and rotation advice.
- Advice specific to the anaesthesia training pathway – from referee selection through to the interview preparation. Advice from senior peers has the potential to significantly strengthen your application for critical care roles.
- Assistance with cover letter preparation, CV review, and interview practice.
- Assistance in identifying realistic career goals and planning to achieve them.
- Provides an opportunity for feedback on clinical skills and professional development.
- Provides a platform for debriefing.
- Enhanced networking which may lead to new opportunities – such as research or audit.
- Creates a professional support to help you celebrate your wins and bounce forward from your struggles.
- Potential for ongoing mentorship as you progress through various stages of your career.
- Your experience as a mentee will greatly inform your role as a mentor down the track.
Several of the benefits available to the mentor included the development of communication skills, expansion of one’s professional network, and the opportunity to reflect on one’s own practice and goals.
Step 1 – Find the right mentor
Finding the right mentor is the most important step in the mentorship process. Start by considering those in your professional networks who you look up to or admire. Broadly speaking a mentor should be approachable, responsive, flexible, honest, and have a genuine interest in the development and wellbeing of junior staff. Look out for these qualities in your clinical encounters – this may or may not be someone you already know. Following this, consider the kind of guidance or advice you are seeking, and who might be best suited to provide this. The perspective of a senior anaesthetic resident will be different yet equally important compared to that of an anaesthetic consultant. Forming strong relationships with individuals at all levels of training will bring you a breadth of perspective, experience, insight, and opportunity.
Your ability to identify a potential mentor will largely depend on the amount of time you have spent in a particular hospital or department, and the quality of relationships you have built with your senior peers. If you are new to a department or relatively junior, this process can be challenging. Many hospitals offer mentorship programs that pair medical interns with residents or registrars with similar professional interests – take advantage of this if available to you. If your hospital does not offer a mentorship program, keep an eye out for supportive residents and registrars. Some of the most useful advice I received early in my career came from surgical registrars and discussions with residents on night shift.
As you progress through your early clinical years you will work in a variety of clinical settings. If you are one of the lucky few to receive a rotation in anaesthesia – use this opportunity to get to know the registrars and consultants well. By the mid-point in your rotation, you should be able to identify at least one person who could be a suitable mentor. Take initiative and explore this with them.
If you do not have direct exposure to anaesthetic residents and registrars, you will likely come across them during your time in theatre, the emergency department, and the intensive care unit. Introduce yourself and show interest in their work. Often, they will be happy to share their journey to specialty training with you and impart some words of wisdom (especially if they are well caffeinated!).
Take a minute now to pause and reflect – do you currently have a mentor? If not, can you identify a colleague who has shown a genuine interest in your career aspirations, or perhaps a registrar who has been keen to take you under their wing? Mentorship can be both intentional or incidental, and is often not formalised. Chances are there are already people in your current professional networks who provide elements of mentorship to you. These people are important – maintain these relationships.
Step 2 – Formalise the relationship
Though much of the mentorship you receive throughout your career will be informal, there are benefits to formalising some of these relationships. Formalising a mentorship creates an environment for you to establish goals and expectations for the partnership, increases engagement with and commitment to the process, and can promote feedback that is more frequent and structured. Once you have a potential mentor in mind, consider these tips to formalise the mentorship:
- Find a suitable time to raise the idea of a formal mentorship. Ensure they understand this is an option and not an obligation. Express why you are seeking a mentorship, what you hope to get out from the experience, and why you think this person would be a good fit for you.
- Gauge their interest, and approach the situation with the awareness they may politely decline. Anaesthetic trainees and consultants have many competing demands and may not feel they have the time or experience to invest in a mentorship.
- Discuss your goals for the partnership, specify the type of guidance or feedback you are seeking, and discuss logistics of how the mentorship will work.
Step 3 – Maintain the relationship
Once you have formalised a mentorship, commitment and planning will help maximise the experience for both the mentor and mentee.
- Schedule and attend regular meetings with your mentor
- A mentorship is a professional relationship. Have boundaries and respect them.
- Reassess the relationship as time goes on. Is the mentorship serving the purpose it set out to achieve? Are both parties engaged?
- Appreciate that it may be appropriate to seek alternate or additional mentors as you progress through different stages of your career.
- Show gratitude for your mentor’s time and support.
- Pass it forward by mentoring those who wish to follow in your footsteps.
As you navigate the road from internship to specialty training, consider the difference mentorship could make to the success of your journey. The wisdom and experience of those who have successfully navigated the path before you are powerful tools at your disposal. By seeking and maintaining formalised mentorship throughout your career, you will continuously bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be. The power of mentorship should not be underestimated.