January is national mentoring month, and one of my goals this month is to celebrate mentoring and the positive effect it can have. I do think it’s important to immediately state that mentoring is not a “one size fits all”. While we know a great deal more about what effective mentoring looks like and how to develop mentoring programs than we did a decade ago, the reality is that we still have a great deal to learn. Many institutions and organizations have implemented mentoring programs, yet we still don’t have much more than anecdotal evidence of the impact of these programs. Mentoring as a science? It’s definitely a field still ripe for exploring!

My own interest in mentoring blossomed during my surgical residency when I recognized how central mentors had been to my specialty selection, and ultimately to my subspecialty selection as well. I also recognized something that (in the 90s) wasn’t widely acknowledged within surgery- that I had mentors, plural, rather than that one “holy grail” mentor who had guided and were guiding me. What I’ve subsequently learned is that most of us actually have a web of mentors across domains and across time. Maybe the model I built for myself wasn’t so unusual after all.

Most importantly, because of my recognition that mentors had made all of the difference for my career development (thank you Danny Custer, Leigh Neumayer, Jeff Saffle, and David Herndon, amongst others!), a crucial part of my own story was to become the best mentor I can be. Do I get it right every day? Not even close. Do I have good intentions? Always. And do I get to see the rewards? All the time, and that’s the best part. I get to see medical students turn into residents and grow into being young faculty. I get to see junior faculty members get promoted to Associate Professor. I get to see people excited about giving their first professional presentation, having their first peer-reviewed publication, and getting awards for making amazing contributions. I get the text or phone call when something goes phenomenally well…or phenomenally badly and they simply need an ear.

As their mentor, do I get to take credit for these things? Absolutely not! They aren’t my accomplishments, and I didn’t do the hard work. I do, however, get to celebrate the corners on which I left a fingerprint, and the fact that my mentees trust me to want to share their victories (and their struggles) with me. It’s a privilege that they trusted me in the first place to invite me in as a mentor, and seeing them succeed is its own reward.