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Questioning Common Perceptions On Mentorship In Medicine

Mentorship is an essential foundation to a successful career. However, one often thinks of it in terms of a one-way street flowing from older (often incorrectly synonymous with experienced) to younger (also often erroneously synonymous with inexperienced). Merriam-Webster defines a mentor as "someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person."1

I started thinking about mentorship after reading a Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery (JBJS) Orthopedic Forum piece written by Richard H. Gross, MD. The article, titled "What's Important: What Kept Me Looking Forward to Going to Work for 50 Years," is beautifully written and thought-provoking.2 I make it a point to read all Orthopedic Forum articles in JBJS because I often find them incredibly insightful. Dr. Gross mentions towards the end of the editorial, "Lastly, I have never outgrown the need for mentors—now they just happen to be younger than I am."2

That statement is profound, and contrary to what most envision regarding mentorship. I reflected on those mentors in my life that are younger than me. Personal and professional mentors are and continue to be a considerable part of my life. My wife is five years younger than I, and I learn from her daily. My children range from 34 to 21 years old, and each of them taught me along my life's journey.

As a residency director, I interact with residents and students every day. I have tremendous opportunities to learn from each of them. My job is to teach, and I take it seriously. I work hard alongside the other team members to ensure a safe, comprehensive and well-rounded learning environment. I try to practice what I preach by being a humble and willing learner when opportunities arise.

Extraordinary mentors like: Ignacio Ponseti, MD; Kaye Wilkins, MD; John Macdonald, MD, Richard Lundeen, DPM; Janet Simon, DPM; Patricia Moore, DPM; Phil Ward, DPM, Daniel Davis, DPM; Ira Kraus, DPM; Dennis Frisch, DPM; David Edwards, DPM; Seth Rubenstein, DPM and Jeff DeSantis, DPM shaped my clinical and professional career. Paying it forward by being a mentor to those under my tutelage is vitally important to me. My associate residency director, William Wolfe, DPM, is a tremendous resource for our program. He graduated from his residency about three years ago, and I learn from him regularly. The attending podiatric physicians of the residency program provide unique and varied insights, creating a mentorship opportunity for me and the residents alike.=

Mentorship is a two-way street for even the most experienced and seasoned physician educator. Becoming a more effective mentor means being open to mentoring from anyone, including someone younger. Sharing your professional knowledge and experience to those following you is the ultimate in giving back. Mentorship is foundational in medicine. Failing to teach, lead, inspire, share, guide, encourage, support and train is selfish and short-sighted. Ignoring the opportunity to be taught, guided, inspired and trained is just plain arrogant.

Dr. DeHeer is the Residency Director of the St. Vincent Hospital Podiatry Program in Indianapolis. He is a Fellow of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, a Fellow of the American Society of Podiatric Surgeons, a Fellow of the American College of Foot and Ankle Pediatrics, a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, and a Diplomate of the American Board of Podiatric Surgery.

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1. Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online. Mentor. Available at: . Accessed April 26, 2021.

2. Gross, Richard H. "What's Important: What Kept Me Looking Forward to Going to Work for 50 Years." J Bone Joint Surg. (2021;103(5):456-457.

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