To the Editor:
We at the Kern Institute at the Medical College of Wisconsin took great interest in the Invited Commentary by Choi and colleagues, which calls for academic medical centers to adopt a culture of mentorship as a strategic priority by casting a spotlight on the measurable benefits of mentorship: advanced academic rank, increased research productivity, procurement of funding, and career satisfaction.1 We commend Choi and colleagues for establishing a vision and formulating strategies to enhance physician guidance within academic medical centers. However, we must also characterize the role of mentorship on personal development and hot-button issues, like physician burnout, which may go unrecognized despite achievement.
Spanning 7 academic medical centers, the Kern National Network works to transform medical education by enhancing physician character, competence, and caring. We do not negate the importance of coaching, but believe it is mentorship that is pivotal for character development and consider it crucial to distinguish the 2 roles. Coaching is short term for skill enhancement, and mentoring is long term, focusing on career and personal development.2 For personal development, Straus and Sackett suggest good mentor characteristics include: empathetically listening or talking in confidence to the mentee, as well as being altruistic, patient, honest, accessible, and sincerely committed to developing an important mentor–mentee relationship.3 During exchanges, the mentor transfers character traits to the mentee through action and reflection. In the story of Mentor, it was Athena disguised as Mentor who developed Telemachus’ character, guiding him to stand up to unscrupulous individuals that sought to usurp Odysseus’s estate in his absence. Perhaps an underappreciated product of successful mentorship, beyond academic achievement, is the mentee acquiring character traits for becoming a mentor. This new generation of mentors may help actualize the vision proposed by Choi.
Mentorship is also essential to help alleviate burnout. Maslach described burnout as an erosion of the soul caused by a deterioration of one’s values, dignity, spirit, and will, manifesting as exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced self-efficacy.4 Accordingly, inadequate personal development may underpin burnout. Effort to reduce individual burnout focuses on educational interventions to enhance the capacity to cope.4 However, nascent literature suggests formal mentoring alleviates surgical resident burnout.5 We suggest strategic plans for mentoring include a domain which identifies the benefits of mentorship on personal development—transforming our academic medical centers into beacons for character development. Otherwise, we risk overlooking physician burnout, which may be encased in the shadows of academic achievement.
Jayshil J. Patel, MD
Associate professor of medicine, Division of Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine, Curriculum Pillar Faculty, Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern Institute for the Transformation of Medical Education, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kurt Pfeifer, MD
Professor of medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine, Curriculum Pillar Faculty, Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern Institute for the Transformation of Medical Education, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Jeffrey D. Fritz, PhD
Assistant professor, Department of Cell Biology, Neurobiology and Anatomy, Curriculum Pillar Faculty, Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern Institute for the Transformation of Medical Education, Medical College of Wisconsin–Central Wisconsin, Wausau, Wisconsin.
Karen Marcdante, MD
Professor of pediatrics, Vice Chair of Education, Faculty Pillar Faculty, Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern Institute for the Transformation of Medical Education, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Ryan Spellecy, PhD
Professor of bioethics and medical humanities, and Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, Institute for Equity and Health, Cross Pillar Faculty, Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern Institute for the Transformation of Medical Education, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
1. Choi AMK, Moon JE, Steinecke A, Prescott JE. Developing a culture of mentorship to strengthen academic medical centers. Acad Med. 2019;94:630–633.
2. Marcdante K, Simpson D. Choosing when to advise, coach, or mentor. J Grad Med Educ. 2018;10:227–228.
3. Straus SE, Sackett DL. Clinician-trialist rounds: 10. Mentoring—part 4: Attributes of an effective mentor. Clin Trials. 2012;9:367–369.
4. Maslach C, Leiter MP. The Truth About Burnout: How Organizations Cause Personal Stress and What to Do About It. 2000.San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
5. Zhang H, Isaac A, Wright ED, Alrajhi Y, Seikaly H. Formal mentorship in a surgical residency training program: A prospective interventional study. J Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2017;46:13.