Purpose: The career decisions, practice patterns, and approach to patient care of current female students, who make up close to 50% of medical school classes, will have a profound impact on the profession. This study explores the role gender plays in the mentoring experiences of female medical students.
Method: In 2011, the authors conducted focus groups with 48 third- and fourth-year female medical students at four U.S. medical schools. Using a template organizing style, they derived themes in an iterative process to explore female medical students’ mentoring relationships and the impact of gender on those relationships.
Results: The authors identified four major themes: (1) Optimal mentoring relationships are highly relational. Students emphasized shared values, trust, and a personal connection in describing ideal mentoring relationships. (2) Relational mentoring is more important than gender concordance. Students identified a desire for access to female mentors but stated that when a mentor and mentee developed a personal connection, the gender of the mentor was less important. (3) Gender-based assumptions and stereotypes affect mentoring relationships. Students described gender-based assumptions and expectations for themselves and their mentors. (4) Gender-based power dynamics influence students’ thinking about mentoring. Students stated that they were concerned about how their mentors might perceive their professional decisions because of their gender, which influenced what they disclosed to male mentors and mentors in positions of power.
Conclusions: Gender appears to play a role in female medical students’ expectations and experience with mentoring relationships and may influence their decision making around career planning.