The influence of mentorship and role modeling on developing physician-leaders: views of aspiring and established physician-leaders

J Gen Intern Med. 2009 Oct;24(10):1130-4. doi: 10.1007/s11606-009-1091-9. Epub 2009 Aug 27.


Background: Although the benefits of mentoring in academic medical centers have been amply discussed, the major focus has been on conferring traditional academic skills (e.g., grantsmanship, publications, etc.). In contrast, little attention has been given to the career development of physician-leaders (e.g., communication, vision, team-building, etc.).

Objectives: To understand the role and functions of mentoring and role-modeling in developing physician-leaders as experienced by aspiring and established physician-leaders.

Design: Qualitative design using a stratified purposeful sample and inductive analysis.

Approach: Semi-structured interviews.

Results: Twenty-five Cleveland Clinic faculty participated (14 established physician-leaders, 11 aspiring leaders). Three themes emerged: 1. Role modeling was differentiated as a valued experience separate from mentoring, with respondents describing the significant influence of purely observational learning and "watching leaders-in-action". 2. Many respondents favored a series of "strategic" interactions with various individuals about specific professional issues rather than traditional, longitudinal mentoring experiences. 3. Emotional and psychological support was considered the most valued type of interventional activity.

Conclusions: In our small sample both established and aspiring physician leaders believed that mentorship and role modeling played a significant role in their career development. Short, focused "strategic" mentoring relationships were favored by many over the classic longitudinal experience. Our participants valued role-modeling as an experience separate from mentoring and described the impact of learning from direct observation of skilled leaders. The educational implications of these findings are summarized.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Interprofessional Relations*
  • Interviews as Topic / methods
  • Leadership*
  • Mentors* / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Physicians* / psychology
  • Professional Competence