Defining the ideal qualities of mentorship: a qualitative analysis of the characteristics of outstanding mentors

Am J Med. 2011 May;124(5):453-8. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2010.12.007.


Objective: The study's objective was to identify the important qualities of outstanding mentors as described by their mentees' letters of nomination for a prestigious lifetime achievement award in mentorship.

Methods: The Lifetime Achievement in Mentorship Award at the University of California, San Francisco, recognizes a faculty member who has demonstrated sustained mentoring excellence in the academic health sciences. Recommendation letters in support of the top 10 nominees in 2008 (n=53 letters) were analyzed using grounded theory and constant comparative technique until thematic saturation was achieved.

Results: In 2008, 29 faculty members (of>1000 eligible senior faculty) were nominated. Nominees were 53 to 78 years old, and 30% were women. The nominees represented 4 schools (Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy and Dentistry) and 22 departments/divisions. Five themes emerged from the analysis. Outstanding mentors: 1) exhibit admirable personal qualitites, including enthusiasm, compassion, and selflessness; 2) act as a career guide, offering a vision but purposefully tailoring support to each mentee; 3) make strong time commitments with regular, frequent, and high-quality meetings; 4) support personal/professional balance; and 5) leave a legacy of how to be a good mentor through role modeling and instituting policies that set global expectations and standards for mentorship.

Conclusion: This is the first study to describe the qualities of admired mentors by analyzing nomination letters for a prestigious mentoring award. Our results give new insight into how mentors foster the careers of junior faculty in the academic health sciences. The results can guide academic leaders on how to train and evaluate mentors.

MeSH terms

  • Academic Medical Centers
  • Adult
  • Awards and Prizes
  • Career Choice
  • Character*
  • Education, Medical* / methods
  • Education, Medical* / organization & administration
  • Education, Medical* / standards
  • Education, Medical* / trends
  • Empathy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence*
  • Interprofessional Relations*
  • Leadership*
  • Male
  • Mentors*
  • Middle Aged
  • Physician's Role
  • Program Development