Table of Contents  
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 8  |  Issue : 6  |  Page : 107-109

Mentorship in surgical training – To Rejuvenate

Department of Vascular Surgery, Apollo Main Hospital, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

Date of Submission31-Dec-2021
Date of Acceptance31-Dec-2021
Date of Web Publication20-Jan-2022

Correspondence Address:
Rajarajan Venkatesan
Department of Vascular Surgery, Apollo Main Hospital, Chennai, Tamil Nadu
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijves.ijves_138_21

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How to cite this article:
Venkatesan R. Mentorship in surgical training – To Rejuvenate. Indian J Vasc Endovasc Surg 2021;8, Suppl S2:107-9

How to cite this URL:
Venkatesan R. Mentorship in surgical training – To Rejuvenate. Indian J Vasc Endovasc Surg [serial online] 2021 [cited 2022 May 25];8, Suppl S2:107-9. Available from:

Learning is a lifelong never-ending process. What we learn or learned is just handful of sand, but to be learned is as huge as our mother Earth (“Katrathu Kai Mann Alavu, Kallathathu Ulagalavu”) – couplet proverb by a very famous Tamil poet Avvai keeps me pushing to know more and what next and new. Surgical specialty is a skill and technique-based art, which requires proper mentors at every period of our career to move forward with perfection.

The word “mentor” emerged from Greek mythology after the famous tale “Odyssey” (epic poem described ancient Greek literature) by Homer in the 8th century, in which Odysseus trusted his friend Mentor for training and guidance of his son Telemachus while he was away for the Trojan war.[1] The evidence on the power of mentorship is pretty evident: People with mentors perform better, advance in their careers faster, and experience better professional satisfaction. Mentor is much different from a teacher. The challenges of surgical training and practice are unique, and hence, mentors play an integral part in growth of a young trainee or junior surgeon. Most of all, the mentor is reflected in how we perform our operations.

  Mentorship Top

Mentorship is a dynamic relationship between two individuals aimed at fostering the development of the less experienced person. Currently, the literature on mentorship in surgery is somewhat scarce. In mentoring process, there is informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and the psychosocial support as relevant to work, career, or professional development.

Mentorship is critical in surgical speciality. The influence of one's mentor shapes the career and perspectives for any young surgeon. Developing professionals receive subconscious guidelines as they slowly model themselves after their mentors. Mentorship is a valuable mode of transferring their knowledge and skills to the next generation of surgeons leaving a legacy in them. The success of the mentee is the mentor's best reward. In an ideal mentorship, there needs to be baseline chemistry between a mentor and a mentee, mutual trust and respect, and focus on character rather than competence.

In the current era, however, digital surgery is an emerging path to train new surgeons through telementoring. It has not been embraced much due to steep learning curve. In-person mentoring is an effective method for assisting surgeons in learning new surgical techniques but may not be possible in trauma and emergency surgeries, which require immediate care, and experts may not be available when needed.

  Mentor–Mentee Relationship Top

The mentor–mentee relationship is synergistic. The ideal surgical mentor should be one who is experienced, well-trained, and willing to help junior colleagues to grow professionally and personally. The fundamentals in mentorship are three A's - Available, Analytical, and Active Listening.

The mentor should be easily accessible and able to dedicate time and energy to address the mentee's needs.[2] He/she should be available any time even during the odd hours if mentee needs him/her. He/she should give as much chance to do surgery and supervise the mentee in a graded manner and then allow them to do independently. Mentor should create an environment where mentees want to work under him/her. Mentor should be analytical and shares his/her own surgical experience both good and bad outcomes to the mentee. He/she should actively listen to the mentee and clarify his/her doubts.

Mentor benefits by enhanced peer recognition, professional and personal growth through the process, and satisfaction from helping someone achieve their full potential. Mentor will also directly or indirectly influence the training process and the overall quality of the training which helps in building up a structured program and an institution. There are various factors and barriers that influence the mentor–mentee relationships, such as cultural differences, generational differences, gender differences, scarcity of qualified mentors, time constraint, work ethics, and willingness.

Mentor chooses his/her mentees who have commitment to science or profession, passionate and curious to gain knowledge and who show potential for making considerable contribution to science, who are capable and deserve to pass on his/her professional skills to the next generations. Mentor readily receptive for reverse mentorship to encourage bidirectional exchange of knowledge which fosters mutual respect and builds social capital.

Mentee learns how to balance work, study, and life and is provided honest and informal feedback, critical appraisal of his/her quality of work, and friendly tips to avoid errors. Mentee also gets a perspective of long-term career planning, learns the informal rules of professional advancement, and is benefited by accruing professional contacts through the mentor. Mentees need to put thought, consideration, and “hard work” into engaging, seeking, maintaining, and nurturing effective relationships with mentors.

From the perspective of a mentee, the “perfect” mentor:

  • is someone you want to emulate, admire, and develop into
  • is one who is confident, talented in clinical and technical skills, amicable in social settings, productive in academics, and not to forget in this day our age, possessed of the financial and business savvy to sustain and grow a successful and productive practice.

Mentee can choose his/her mentor during and/or after basic surgical training by applying to him/her. Mentee needs to be clear with their goals and defines objective end points. Mentee should be able to capture or grab the techniques of mentor in the given training period. Mentee should be proactive, ambitious, committed, altruistic, and utilize the quality of time. Mentee can have multiple mentors in their entire surgical career not necessarily in surgery alone, also in the thought process, attitude discipline, pursuit of excellence, and push for perfection.

  Responsibilities Top

The responsibility of the mentors who have already achieved their goals and make mentee for professional satisfaction as a form of paying back to the profession and not to get died with them. Mentor should make sure that the mentee to get proper placement after his/her training professionally and guide for his/her personal growth as well. Mentees should show a strong commitment to learn and must express their needs in a direct manner and take responsibility for setting and sticking to a goal schedule. Mentee should not be a passive recipient of mentors advice and wisdom but be an active participant in shaping the relationship and adapting the wisdom to desired goals. At times, information and advice from the mentor might not be directly applicable in achieving goals, but shrewd mentee identifies the potential of mentor and actively asks questions and gains the desired information. Mentors enjoy working with mentees who learn quickly. Mentee should set a time line with mentors and work hard on getting the desired goals.

For a good mentor–mentee relationship, compatibility and trust are very important. The key traits of mentee are initiative, learn quickly, following through and moving ahead of the mentorship by establishing their own niche.

In the History of Modern Surgery, there are numerous examples of successful mentor–mentee relationship - William Halstead and Harvey Cushing, Alfred Blalock and William P. Longmire, William P. Longmire and L. William Traverso, and so on. In this article, we will see a few characteristics of successful mentorship.

Alfred Blalock generated a successful collaborative environment and motivated others to achieve. With his mentorship, his mentees developed into national surgical leaders. His trainees who were elected president of the American Surgical Association include Longmire, William Scott, MD, William Muller, MD, David Sabiston, MD, Rollins Hanlon, MD, Frank Spencer, MD, and Ravitch. Many of his trainees became chiefs of surgery across USA, including surgical luminaries such as Hank Bahnson, MD, Denton Cooley, MD, and Alex Haller, MD.

Blalock's leadership provided an environment that fostered professional development that encouraged his residents to achieve success, which is an essential quality of a successful mentor. With his influence, Blalock prepared his residents for future opportunities, but he never overextended his reach.

William Longmire Jr., MD, a surgical resident at Johns Hopkins who eventually became the first chairman of surgery at the University of California, Los Angeles, commented about his mentor Alfred Blalock

  • -He had the uncanny knack of recognizing talent…and of attracting the most promising to become identified with him in some way…. The stimulation of and confidence in them encouraged many of those associated with him to rise to heights that they might otherwise never have achieved…. He was a master at working with people and making them productive. He stimulated productivity to a large degree by his personal example of hard work, and by his careful planning and directing.[3]

In a letter to Barney Brooks, MD, then Chief of Surgery at Vanderbilt, Crowe asserts: “Personally, I think Dr. Blalock is one of the best men with whom I have come in contact for several years. He is deeply interested in investigative problems and has enough energy to carry them through to completion-personally I think that he has a brilliant future.”

Blalock wrote, “My chief, Dr. Barney Brooks, gave me every opportunity to pursue my interest[4].”

  Conclusions Top

Finding and nurturing a strong mentorship is paramount during surgical training and invaluable in career advancement. By effective mentoring, we can shape the surgeons of tomorrow for better. To focus on the positive traits and overcome the barriers, an effective mentor–mentee relationship can be built and revive the dying art of mentorship. Although mentorship may not always take on a structured form, it should not be treated casually because proper mentorship is the foundation for training quality surgeons.

  References Top

Begum S, Khan MR, Safa M. Mentorship in surgical training: Where do we stand? J Pak Med Assoc 2021;71 Suppl 1:S68-71.  Back to cited text no. 1
Entezami P, Franzblau LE, Chung KC. Mentorship in surgical training: A systematic review. Hand (N Y) 2012;7:30-6.  Back to cited text no. 2
Kensinger CD, Merrill WH, Geevarghese SK. Surgical mentorship from mentee to mentor lessons from the life of Alfred Blalock, MD. JAMA Surg 2015;150:98-9.  Back to cited text no. 3
Merrill WH. What's past is prologue. Ann Thorac Surg 1999;68:2366-75.  Back to cited text no. 4


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