Purpose: Career development award programs often require formal establishment of mentoring relationships. The authors sought to gain a nuanced understanding of mentoring from the perspective of a diverse national sample of faculty clinician–researchers who were all members of formal mentoring relationships.
Method: Between February 2010 and August 2011, the authors conducted semistructured, in-depth telephone interviews with 100 former recipients of National Institutes of Health mentored career development awards and 28 of their mentors. Purposive sampling ensured a diverse range of viewpoints. Multiple analysts thematically coded verbatim transcripts using qualitative data analysis software.
Results: Three relevant themes emerged: (1) the numerous roles and behaviors associated with mentoring in academic medicine, (2) the improbability of finding a single person who can fulfill the diverse mentoring needs of another individual, and (3) the importance and composition of mentor networks. Many respondents described the need to cultivate more than one mentor. Several participants discussed the use of peer mentors, citing benefits such as pooled resources and mutual learning. Female participants generally acknowledged the importance of having at least one female mentor. Some observed that their portfolio of mentors needed to evolve to remain effective.
Conclusions: Those who seek to promote the careers of faculty in academic medicine should focus on developing mentoring networks rather than on hierarchical mentoring dyads. The members of each faculty member’s mentoring team or network should reflect the protégé’s individual needs and preferences, with special attention toward ensuring diversity in terms of area of expertise, academic rank, and gender.