Why Residents Should Have A Sponsor As Well As A Mentor

Christopher R. Hood Jr. DPM AACFAS

As July brings in a new crop of residents, many of them will be looking for direction for making it through the next three years of their life (and thereafter). Often, residents will create a connection with someone(s) at their program who may provide guidance during that time period.

However, it was not until a discussion with my wife, when she brought up the idea of a mentor versus a sponsor, that I considered the difference between the two. This concept was new to me and the distinction between the two has changed how I look for the people I surround myself with and seek out to aid in career development.

I did not realize there is a big difference between mentor and sponsor, and the role each one plays. Mentors tend to guide you through your career while in the background. They are ones who give you advice, wisdom and hints to move forward in your career. These are the people you look up to, learn from, etc.

A sponsor is someone who actively advocates for you, tries to enhance your career through promotions and opportunities, bringing up your name at meetings, all often unsolicited and without strings attached. Whether or not you are present or aware, sponsors act in ways to have your back, promote you, and actively try to advance your career. Sponsors want to see you reach your goals with little to no personal benefit for their work or assistance. Simply put, mentors advise; sponsors act.

In my short career, I have had many mentors through different phases from school, residency, fellowship and private practice. However, I feel the number drastically dwindles when I consider who was a sponsor for me. I am glad I unknowingly had both types in my corner.  

Start to look at the people around you as you build the foundation of your career and see who can be both a mentor and sponsor for you. Seek out people you want in your life. Build personal (and not just work) connections. Find a mentor if you are looking to pick the brain of someone senior who has what you want to achieve. These are the people who are living the professional life you want to have, they have “been there, done that,” and you want to learn how to get “there” too.

Find a sponsor if you are looking to get to the next level of your career and how that person can help you (and want to help you) achieve that. These are the people who may help you get to that goal through their own personal associations or willingness to advocate for you. Sponsors are the ones putting their reputation on the line for you and you act as an extension of them. Due to this risk, it is often more difficult to find a sponsor and may take time to develop this relationship as you get to know one another.

It is important to have both mentors and sponsors in your life. While it may be easier to find a mentor, the relationship can transition and grow into a sponsorship. Having both mentors and sponsors, and recognizing who is who to you, will make the difference in your career. Moreover, pay it forward and think about the people you can help as a mentor or sponsor. I encourage you to start today.


1. Mayer EH. Sponsor vs mentors: what’s the difference and why it matters. Glassdoor. Available at https://www.glassdoor.com/blog/sponsors-vs-mentors/ . Published Jan. 31, 2018.

2. Porter J. Yes, you will need a mentor, but a sponsor will really boost your career. Available at https://inclusion.slac.stanford.edu/sites/inclusion.slac.stanford.edu/files/The_Key_Role_of_a_Sponsorship_for_Diverse_Talent.pdf . Published September 23, 2014.

3. Hewlett SA. Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor. Harvard Business Review, Cambridge, Mass., 2013. 

Dr. Hood is a fellowship trained foot and ankle surgeon at Premier Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine in Malvern, PA. Follow him on Twitter at @crhoodjrdpm or check out his website www.footankleresource.com, which contains information on student/resident/new practitioner transitioning, as well as links to academic and educations resources found throughout the internet.


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