Inclusive Mentoring

07 Jan 2021

By Christy Chai, MD, FACS and Susan Tsai, MD, MHS, FACS

This blog entry is the first in a series of six blogs authored by members of the Clinical Practice Committee writing in collaboration with our society liaisons throughout the year. 

Mentoring has long been identified as a critical component of professional development.  Effective mentorship programs can positively impact career advancement, self-efficacy, confidence, satisfaction, productivity, and retention. More recently, the term “inclusivementoring has been introduced to emphasize the need for equity, inclusion, and diversity within mentoring relationships, thus fostering a safe and collaborative working environment for all.   

Mentor-mentee relationships are long-term relationships requiring substantial commitment from both individuals and building upon a shared natural affinity. Mentees benefit from practical advice and encouragement as well as guidance in career development. Mentors learn leadership and management skills, and improve communication and interpersonal skills. Traditionally, mentor-mentee partnerships are built on shared interests and experiences. Both the mentor and mentee unconsciously  gravitate towards shared commonalities such as  gender, race, or background.  

Unfortunately, this process, although organic and spontaneous, can further concentrate the benefits of mentorship to a select group of individuals and disadvantages both mentors and mentees of underrepresented minorities (gender, race, ethnicity, beliefs and more) since they lack sufficient representation at all levels of professional development. This may exacerbate feelings of isolation and exclusion, narrow networking opportunities, and widen the gap in professional development for individuals of underrepresented minorities. Inclusive mentoring challenges this paradigm and advises  mentors and mentees to step out of their comfort zones and actively engage in different styles and types of mentor-mentee relationships.

It is important to recognize that a single mentor cannot always meet the diverse needs of an individual mentee, and a group of mentors is often needed. Rather than a traditional one-on-one vertical relationship, a mentee should consider a “group mentoring” approach with a portfolio or network of mentors who can provide appropriate guidance from shared experiences.  Some mentors may be great at practical guidance on career development and institutional advancement.  Others may provide excellent psychosocial and emotional support. The collective strength of the group mentoring approach can provide a more comprehensive and enriching professional development experience.  

In addition, mentorship does not have to maintain a vertical reporting structure.  Peer-mentors with horizontal mentorship can offer mutual support, collaboration, and inspiration – “if she can do it, I can do it too.”  Furthermore, mentors do not have to be in the same professional field as mentees depending on the area of expertise needed.  A physician mentee seeking a mentor in the area of finance and hospital administration may find a good mentor in the corporate world . It is said that a successful mentoring relationship is based on a “good match.” A good match can be formed by commitment between  mentors and mentees as well as setting clear expectations, documenting goals, establishing boundaries, and communicating effectively across gender, race, and other differences. A good match can be achieved when we recognize the importance of inclusive mentoring.  

Mentees must take the first step to create a network of mentors as recipients of greater benefits in the relationship.  Mentors should be mindful of equity in support and opportunities since everyone does not have access to the same information or comfort level in social settings. Finally, both sides must realize that changes occur with different career stages and status levels.  Mentees will become mentors over time and pay forward to those who seek encouragement, support, guidance, and opportunities.

Christy Chai, MD, FACS  is  an assistant professor in the Michael E DeBakey Department of Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX.  She received her medical degree from Loma Linda University School of Medicine in Loma Linda, CA.  She completed the general surgery residency at Baylor College of Medicine and the surgical oncology fellowship at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, FL. She is proud to serve our veterans at the Michael E DeBakey VA Medical Center as the chief of General Surgery & Surgical Oncology as a U.S Air Force veteran herself.  You can follow her on Twitter @Chai_Christy.

Susan Tsai, MD, MHS, FACS is an Associate Professor in the Department of Surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin. She holds a joint appointment at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin and the Clement J. Zablocki VA hospital and serves as the Director of the LaBahn Pancreatic Cancer Program and the leader of the GI Oncology Disease Team.




Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.

One Reply to “Inclusive Mentoring”

  1. These points are key! I am so glad, too, that you emphasize that mentorship in its entirety cannot come from one person. No one is an expert on all topics. It is so critical that we reach outside our comfort zone!

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