The Keys to a Successful Mentor-Mentee Relationship

By Candice Johnstone, MD, MPH, Lindsay Puckett, MD, Hina Saeed, MD

The importance of mentoring for a successful carrier cannot be denied. Effective mentoring contributes to wellness, career growth and satisfaction throughout a lifetime. Leveraging mentorship to promote growth necessitates being aware of when to look for a new mentor for a new stage in your career and taking steps to build a mentor network. A mentor network is a group of individuals that can provide specialization in different areas you are seeking guidance in and can access their wealth of knowledge when needed. Let’s examine what makes a successful mentoring relationship:

  • Trust between both individuals.
  • Both the mentor and mentee should be prepared for each meeting.
  • Set and document appropriate goals for the mentee, with the mentee creating their own goals before the meeting.
  • Track progress toward goals.
  • Consider existing skills and continuously assess and reassess.
  • Acknowledging real and assumed differences can help develop the relationship and deal with crises that come up for mentee.
  • Recognize that mentoring is subject to the same social forces and interpersonal dynamics that make all human relationships complex; not all relationships will continue.

Best Practices for Mentors and Mentees

There are many lessons learned as a mentor, as a mentee and from developing or overseeing mentorship programs. Here is some advice we would like to share based on those experiences.

Advice For Mentors

What makes a good mentor?

  • Altruism and generosity, including time and accessibility.
  • Creative and forward thinking.
  • Recognition of mentee’s abilities.
  • Recognition of the mentee’s goals and changes in those goals.
  • Advocating for your mentee.
  • Good communication.

What is a mentor’s role?

  • Create a safe space that invites trust and openness.
  • Be comfortable addressing perceived and real differences between the mentor and the mentee, such as gender, race or background, and embrace them.
  • Be aware of implicit and explicit bias that may affect relationships.
  • Acknowledge one’s own identity and experiences.
  • Explore, rather than make assumptions.
  • Expand experience and knowledge of the mentee.
  • Work with the mentee to expand their skills.

Advice for Mentees

What makes a good mentee?

  • Enthusiasm and receptivity.
  • Initiation and carry through skills.
  • Attention to detail and work ethic.
  • Awareness of specific goals.
  • Respect for the mentor’s time.

What is the mentee’s role?

  • Taking initiative with goals and bringing to the table ideas.
  • Follow through on steps to achieve goals.
  • Good communication.
  • Being receptive to advice and constructive criticism.

Missteps and Remedies

Sometimes missteps happen in the mentor-mentee relationship, but there are plenty of remedies to each type of situation. In the JAMA essay Mentee Missteps: Tales From the Academic Trenches, the authors break down six situations stemming from conflict averse and confidence lacking issues. Here are two examples of mentee missteps ― being an overcommitter or a vampire ― and how to remedy them.

The Overcommitter

This individual lacks the power of no and ends up overcommitting and stretching themself thin. A sign of this might be a résumé that is jam packed with volunteer roles and committee work, and yet few of these positions have resulted in academic products, such as publications.

As a potential solution, the mentee could lean on the mentor as a reason to say “no.” Before committing to a project, determine which current projects you should withdraw from to refocus your efforts. A mentor in this case could add new items to the mentee’s list only after previous goals or projects have been completed.

The Vampire

The mentee requires constant attention and supervision, leaving mentors drained of time and energy. The mentee seeks approval or clarification for every step of a project regardless of similar or past discussions. They may jump from mentor to mentor.

A remedy in this case would be for the mentor to help the mentee recognize their behavior and speak to them about their feelings of insecurity. The mentee should look to their peers and how they handle or cope when struggling. Once these issues are addressed, a mentor could set clear goals and boundaries including what scope of questions are appropriate and what are not.

These guidelines may act as a blueprint for a strong foundation. To view the original charts and other situations, access them on the JAMA networkWe hope you can apply these mentoring pearls to your existing or future mentor-mentee relationships.

Do you have any advice for mentors and mentees you have picked up from experience? Please comment below. And to view additional mentoring resources, check out the  Mentor Match page on ASTRO.org and read the latest issue of ASTROnews, focused on mentorship.


Vaughn V, Saint S, Chopra V. Mentee Missteps: Tales From the Academic Trenches. JAMA.  2017;317(5):475–476. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.12384

Posted: July 12, 2021 | with 0 comments
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