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Mentoring Women In Medicine


The concept of mentoring involves two components: professional assistance including coaching and access to opportunity, and psychosocial support (2). Mentoring has traditionally been based on a dyadic mentor-mentee model. In this model, there is pairing of an experienced mentor with a less experienced mentee, with the formation of a long-term relationship based on shared interests and mutual trust (3). The pairing may occur informally, or through a formal mentoring program.  There are several drawbacks to the traditional mentoring model, including lack of senior mentors with time and willingness to participate, limitations of having one mentor’s individual perspective, personality discordance between paired individuals, different expectations between mentor and mentee, transference issues, sexual dynamics, lack of consistency, and passivity related to role-modelling (4). As discussed by Mayer et al (3), this traditional model of mentoring is congruent with the male socialisation model, being hierarchical in style, and it tends to prioritise informational discussion and promotion of independence over guidance, psychosocial issues, and collaboration. Socialised gender differences between men and women mean that this traditional model of mentoring may be less relevant to, congruent with, and beneficial for, women than men. Peer mentoring and the multiple-mentoring model are mentoring strategies which have been described more recently, which may be a better fit for female mentees (3).

The multiple-mentoring model is based on the idea that individuals may benefit more from multiple developmental relationships rather than relying exclusively on one mentor for the benefits of mentoring (5). It has been suggested that creating a “composite mentor” including both senior and junior staff who meet different needs of the mentee (e.g. some serving as role models, some providing educational guidance and others psychosocial support) may be particularly beneficial for women mentees and minorities where there is a relative lack of women in senior positions available to mentor (6). In addition, this mentoring model may be more suitable for women mentees as it allows either collaborative or hierarchical relationships or both, in contrast to the traditional mentoring model which involves only hierarchical relationships which are most congruent with the male socialisation model (3). One of the drawbacks, however, of the multiple-mentoring model is that the mentee has the burden of building their mentoring team, which may be very difficult at a junior stage in one’s career (6).

Peer-mentoring involves people of similar rank with shared interests working together with common goals. There are several potential benefits to peer-mentoring over traditional mentoring. Peer relationships often lead to friendship which may last longer than traditional mentoring relationships, the absence of power imbalance allows for mutual feedback, and because peers are equal in rank and stature there is often more flexibility in terms of meeting times, defining expectations from the relationship, and other matters (7). The drawbacks of peer-mentoring, in comparison to traditional mentoring, include the potential for competitiveness between mentors/mentees who are at the same stage in their career, and the reduced cumulative experience and network of peer mentors who are more junior in their career compared to traditional mentors who are more senior (7). However, overall, peer mentoring appears successful. A formalised collaborative peer mentoring program in academic medicine has been shown to be beneficial for participants in many ways, including improved career satisfaction, identification of core values, career planning, development of close relationships, and development of skills in areas such as gender and power issues, negotiation and conflict management (4).

Mentoring in medicine may be more effective and beneficial for participants if newer models of mentoring are employed. Formalising a multiple-mentor approach or the development of peer-mentoring programs may offer benefits to both women and men in medicine. These models emphasise collaboration over hierarchy, and given socialised gender differences, these mentoring models may be a particularly good fit for women.


1. Sambunjak D, Straus SE, Marusic A. Mentoring in academic medicine: a systematic review. JAMA. 2006;296(9):1103-15.
2. Roemer L. Women CEOs in health care: did they have mentors? Health Care Management Review. 2002;27(4):57-67.
3. Mayer AP, Files JA, Ko MG, Blair JE. Academic advancement of women in medicine: do socialized gender differences have a role in mentoring? Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2008 February;83(2):204-7.
4. Pololi LH, Knight SM, Dennis K, Frankel RM. Helping medical school faculty realize their dreams: an innovative, collaborative mentoring program. Academic Medicine. 2002 May;77(5):377–84.
5. Ibarra H. Personal networks of women and minorities in management. Academy of Management Review. 1993;18:56-88.
6. Chesler NC, Chesler MA. Gender-informed mentoring strategies for women engineering scholars: on establishing a caring community. Journal of Engineering Education. 2002;91:49-55.
7. Bussey-Jones J, Bernstein L, Higgins S, Malebranche D, Paranjape A, Genao I, et al. Repaving the road to academic success: the IMeRGE approach to peer mentoring. Academic Medicine. 2006 July;81(7):674-9.

This article, Mentoring women in medicine: a collaborative approach, was written by Ms Emily Gregory-Roberts (NSW) in October 2008 as part of her AFMW Leadership Scholarship.

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