“A mentor is not someone who walks ahead of us and tells us how they did it. A mentor is someone who walks alongside us to guide us on what we can do.”
– Simon Sinek, British-American author and inspirational speaker

Around this time of year – with commencement just days away and a new cohort of medical students poised to become doctors – I am often asked to share advice with our learners on how to succeed in the next phase of their careers. While I have a few go-to pearls of wisdom, there is one that applies to everyone in every profession:

Find a great mentor.

This advice, of course, is based on my own experience. Throughout my life, I have served in many roles – leader, head and neck surgeon-scientist, wife and mom, teacher and learner. My ability to navigate each of those roles has been, in part, thanks to the excellent mentors, sponsors and role models I had along the way.

As a medical student at the University of Michigan, I quickly discovered my passion for otolaryngology–head and neck surgery and knew it was going to be the specialty I pursued. Stories from the early 1900s of Margaret F. Butler, MD, the first woman chair of a department of otolaryngology in the nation, helped me dream of the path I might take. The mentor who helped me along that path was Thomas Carey, PhD, a distinguished university research scientist and professor who took me under his wing and offered guidance and support.

Over the years, Dr. Carey and I became colleagues and co-led the head and neck oncology program in the Rogel Cancer Center. We collaborated on numerous grants and papers. He excelled at what I believe to be the essentials of mentoring – listening actively, giving honest feedback, offering guidance, thinking critically and providing motivation. Plus, he had the hallmark goals of any wonderful mentor – helping me become the best version of myself and, as television host Oprah Winfrey once described it, allowing me to “see the hope inside” myself.

In academic medicine and beyond, effective mentor-mentee relationships can have an enormous impact on things like job performance, career advancement, promotions, job satisfaction and leadership opportunities. Studies have found that career satisfaction improves with both formal and informal mentorship, and faculty in formal mentorship programs are often promoted more than a year earlier than other faculty.

Mentors benefit, too. According to research, mentors are more satisfied with their jobs compared to non-mentors and are more committed to their organization. They also get a window into the mindset of a different generational workforce as well as the joy of helping someone achieve their goals.

I encourage you to embrace the spirit of mentorship in your career. Consider whether you would like to become or seek out a mentor and know that, either way, you will be leaving a legacy.

Learn more about mentoring opportunities for faculty and for students conducting research at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.  

Carol Bradford

Carol Bradford, MD, MS
Dean, College of Medicine
Leslie H. and Abigail S. Wexner Dean’s Chair in Medicine
Vice President for Health Sciences, Wexner Medical Center