Making Mentorship Work

A successful marriage requires hard work, patience, and understanding. The same is true for the relationship between mentor and mentee. The second annual Mentor Development Conference hosted by the Clinical and Translational Science Institute at Children’s National (CTSI-CN) in partnership with The George Washington (GW) University brought together more than 50 attendees from nearly every school at GW, Nov. 20. Mentors and mentees came together to identify different models of mentorship and describe methods for initiating and sustaining a mentorship relationship, which included  techniques for facilitating communication, consensus building, providing feedback, and dealing with emotions.

“Evidence suggests that people who are mentored perform better at work, have greater satisfaction within their institution, are more involved in professional organizations, and have a stronger sense of professional identity,” said keynote speaker W. Brad Johnson, Ph.D., professor of psychology in the department of leadership, ethics, and law at the United States Naval Academy and author of “On Being a Mentor: A Guide for Higher Education Faculty.”

During the discussion, Johnson cited an article from the Harvard Business Review, which found that 65 percent of the 1,250 top executives listed by the Wall Street Journal had at least one mentor. The most important thing is to “launch the relationship with care and be thoughtful,” said Johnson. “Get to know your mentee.” Another function of a successful mentoring relationship is affirmation, “It’s important to let your mentee know that he or she has done a good job.” Johnson reminded the audience to practice patience and humility. He encouraged the mentors in the audience to not only be a role model for their mentee, but also a teacher and a coach. 

First-year medical student and attendee Yodit Tsegaye described her mentor Robert Freishtat, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of pediatrics at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), as understanding and patient.  Tsegaye, who is also in the Mentored Experience To Expand Opportunities in Research (METEOR) program — which matches newly-admitted SMHS medical students from underrepresented communities with mentors who specialize in clinical or translational research — admires her mentor’s love of teaching. “Dr. Freishtat is a great listener who strives to further my research knowledge by tailoring his experiences to fit my interests and goals.”  

Naomi Luban, M.D., professor of pediatrics at SMHS and division chief of laboratory medicine, principal investigator, and vice chair for academic affairs at Children's National Health System, discussed how to create and implement an individual academic career development plan. There are certain qualities a good mentor must possess, “patience, strong interpersonal skills, technical expertise, and the ability to share credit,” she said.

Luban defined the different types and stages of mentoring. First, initiation, get to know your mentee, identify their strengths; second, cultivation, develop a professional outreach plan; third, separation, your mentee must learn to do things on their own; and, finally, transformation, when the mentee and mentor have developed a more peer-like relationship.

There are many different types of mentors, says Luban, each fulfilling a different personal and professional need. There are peer mentors who are close in rank to the mentee, onsite mentors such as senior faculty, distance mentors, and content mentors who are experts in an individual’s area of interest.

Building on Luban’s remarks regarding the importance of the mentor/mentee relationship, Lisa S. Schwartz, Ed.D., associate director of research education, training, and career development at CTSI-CN and assistant research professor of clinical research and leadership at SMHS, showed the audience how to build a mentoring program by giving them a look at what’s inside the CTSI-CN mentor toolkit. “We have developed a resource on the CTSI-CN website for people who want to build a successful mentor program,” she said. “The toolkit includes mentoring articles, books, program curricula, development plan samples, and mentoring contracts,” she said. The CTSI-CN also provides a consultation service for departments and other groups hoping to implement a formal mentoring program.

This conference is one of many discussions about mentorship planned for the coming year. “The most successful mentee/mentor relationships are the ones that keep the channels of communication open, offer support, define expectations, and, most importantly, maintain contact,” said Johnson. “Be honest, reliable, and consistent.”

Visit to learn more about the program and future events.