A Mentoring Guide for Academic Physician Leaders

by Francine Gaillour, MD

in Transformational Leadership

If you are an Academic Medicine faculty member, the role of “mentor” is frequently included in your role description.  How do you know whether you are doing that job well? Perhaps your only hint is your frustration that your junior colleagues are not showing the improvement you hoped for.

On the flip side, are you a junior faculty wanting to excel, waiting for a promotion to associate professor, wondering if you’ll ever get the “go-ahead” to run your own research program—and wishing you had a better mentor who could accelerate your career?

This topic has come up a few times in the past few months so I thought I’d provide our Daring Doctors readers with a Mentoring Topics outline I’ve used with physician clients in Academic organizations who are expected to mentor their junior colleagues.

The Mentoring Relationship is Key to Future Leadership

First, you are probably have the makings of a good mentor–but you’re not tapping into your full repertoire. One of my clients in academic research took his role as mentor very seriously, but initially looked at his role narrowly, limited to helping his research Fellows write grants.  While he himself had built a prestigious program in his field, he took for granted that junior faculty naturally knew what to do in order to build their own program.  Over time he learned to expand his mentorship to teaching fellows and junior faculty the important steps involved in developing a comprehensive research program.  Later on he also took on the task of improving his own leadership skills and ensuring that his team developed theirs as well.

Another physician in academics I spoke with recently was frustrated because she wasn’t being advanced to an associate professor level after several years at her institution.  Furthermore she was not receiving clear guidance from her assigned mentor about the milestones necessary to get there.  One critical piece of advice I offered her early on:  don’t be passive as a protégé; be PROACTIVE and seek out your assigned mentor.  Ask for specific guidance on the topics most critical to you.

Rating Yourself With a Mentoring Guideline

For both of these physician clients, I offered a simple outline of “Mentoring Topics” to use a foundation to achieving desired outcomes from the mentoring relationship.  Look at the mentoring relationship in academic medicine as the means to achieving one singular goal:  Equipping junior faculty to excel in their current role and grow as future academic leaders.

For mentors, go through the chart below, scoring yourself on each topic according to the scoring key provided at the bottom of the chart.  Whether or not you are experienced or interested in a topic, you ensure your junior faculty attains the requisite competency over time.  If you can’t provide specific guidance, them point them to a resource who can, whether another faculty member within your organization or an outside coach.  Don’t take it as a personal affront if you do not have expertise in all areas—it is a rare academic physician who does.

For protégés, go through the list and make note of the importance and priority of each area. Ideally you and your mentor should review together.

Mentoring Topics for Academic Leaders

If you are a Mentor, rate yourself between 1 and 4 as follows for each Topic:

1 –
I do not have experience in this area and would not feel comfortable mentoring
2–  I have experience in this area, but it is not my favorite topic to mentor on
3 – I have experience in this area, but have not thought to mentor on this topic
4 – I have experience in this area and have successfully mentored others on this topic


Clinical Excellence
My junior faculty is improving Clinical Skills and Demonstrating Clinical Excellence as a practitioner as measured through clinical outcomes, peer review and patient satisfaction metrics
My rating:_____

Clinical Leadership
My junior faculty is effectively leading his/her Clinical Team or Research Team, engaging the team in a collaborative manner as measured by employee satisfaction metrics, recruitment and team project milestones
My rating:_____

Program Development
My junior faculty is learning how to develop a Research Program in their field of expertise by demonstrating proficiency in bench/lab techniques, accuracy in data gathering and reporting, and creative thinking in long range plans.  He/she can be a respected and independent leader of their own program at some point.
My rating:_____

Presenting and Collaborating
My junior faculty is learning to present their work in national and international forums, through publications and speaking, and to connect with potential academic collaborators who can stimulate and enhance their work.
My rating:_____

Grant Writing
My junior faculty is becoming adept at Writing Grant Proposals that have a high probability of being funded.  Their writing skills are improving to the point where they can take on 90% of the grant-writing task, requiring only polish from senior faculty.  Their writing style and skills are at a post-graduate level.
My rating:______

Ethical Behavior
My junior faculty demonstrates ethical, respectful behavior and collegiality toward administrative staff, peers, junior and senior faculty.  He/she is scrupulous in relationships with outside vendors or pharmaceutical companies, identifying and openly disclosing potential conflicts of interests, and removing him/herself from any situations of impropriety.
My rating:_____

Marketing and Fundraising
My junior faculty is become proficient and actively participates in Marketing and Promoting their clinical/research program to the community or outside donors.  They are visible, engaging advocates of the organization and energetic promoters of their research area for the purposes of recruitment and fundraising.
My rating:______

My junior faculty is adept at teaching medical students and residents within their area of expertise.
My rating:_____

Career Development
My junior faculty understands agreed upon milestones and timeline for advancement with our academic organization.  He/she has a professional development plan in place to gain requisite leadership, business and communication skills.  He/she understands opportunities available within and outside the organization.
My rating:______

Now take a look where you rate yourself highest.  You should have at least 5 out of the 8 topics scoring a 3 or 4.  Look at where you are rating yourself a “2” – if your experience is deep, but you don’t feel comfortable as a mentor—get some outside input about what your reluctance might be.  Where you rate yourself a “1” — find  the appropriate mentor, coach or resource for your junior team members.

The Mentoring Topics outline above is a starting point for academic leaders and their junior faculty.  You may come up with additional topics that you want to include in your formal mentoring relationship.

Let me know if these ideas inspire you to approach your mentor “duty” differently.  Email me at francine@physicianleadership.com

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