Mentoring programmes have been implemented as a specific career-advancement tool in the training and further education of various groups in the medical profession. The main focus of our investigation was to examine what types of structured mentoring programmes exist for doctors as well as for medical students, what short- and long-term goals these projects pursue, and whether statements can be made on the effectiveness and efficiency of these programmes. A literature-search strategy was applied to Medline for 1966-2002 using the keyword combinations: (a) mentor* [AND] program* [AND] medical students, and (b) mentor* [AND] program* [AND] physicians. Although a total of 162 publications were identified, only 16 papers (nine for medical students and seven for doctors) met the selected methodological criteria. The majority of the programmes lack a concrete structure as well as a short- and long-term evaluation. Main goals are to increase professional competence in research and in further specialization and to build up a professional network for the mentees; no statements are to be found on the advantages for the mentors. Programme evaluation is for the most part presented descriptively in terms of great interest and high level of satisfaction. No publication contains statements on the effectiveness or the efficiency of the programme. Although the results of mentoring are promising, more formal programmes with clear setup goals and a short- and long-term evaluation of the individual successes of the participants as well as the cost-benefit analysis are needed.