Background: Current literature does not define ideal qualities of surgical mentors. We sought to define mentoring qualities desired by medical students in attending and resident surgeons.
Methods: We conducted a survey asking third-year medical students to identify the best attending surgeon and resident surgeon mentors during their surgical clerkship and to explain their selections. Comments were systematically evaluated using content analysis.
Results: The survey response rate was 94.8%. Attending surgeon mentors were described by 84 students; 70 students described resident surgeon mentors. Students most frequently described the "teacher" role for attending surgeons. For resident surgeon mentors, students most often ranked the "person" role. Students prioritized characteristics or attributes within roles differently for attending and resident surgeon mentors.
Conclusions: Medical students' expectations of attending and resident surgeon mentors differ. Emphasis on behaviors consonant with identified characteristics may improve mentoring of medical students by surgeons and increase interest in surgical careers.