How to Excel as a Mentor, According to Mentees

Kaylee Underkofler, MD/MPH Candidate, Maine Track ‘18

What does it take to become a great mentor? While many have pondered this immense question, Lee et al. and Cho et al. sought an answer from perhaps the most important judge of mentors: mentees.1,2 Their goal was to identify the characteristics and practices of exceptional mentors in the eyes of students. The five tips listed below are a unified summary of their results. It is proposed that these ideas could be used to self-assess mentoring abilities, to build faculty development programs, or to guide students and young faculty in the search for a mentor.2 While all the nuances that go into becoming a truly great mentor could not be captured here, this list does include what is most commonly cited as being appreciated by mentees and serves as a place to start for those looking to improve their mentoring abilities.

  1. Exude enthusiasm. The list of personal characteristics that exceptional mentors possess is long and at times varied, but enthusiasm is a constant presence on that list. When enthusiasm for an idea or project is exhibited, it is infectious, spreading to excite passionate students capable of great things.
  2. Provide tailored career guidance. Outstanding mentors undoubtedly influence the careers of their mentees. They do this not by taking a one-size-fits-all approach, but by getting to know their mentees as whole individuals with unique personal goals. As a team, the mentor and mentee create a tailored plan that is distinct from the plan the mentor helps build for another mentee.
  3. Dedicate time, over a long period of time. Mentees emphasize the importance of both frequency of meetings and mentor availability, describing open-door policies and routinely making time for students as hallmarks of terrific mentorship. Furthermore, the longevity of the relationship is valued highly. Mentor-mentee relationships that extend beyond the duration of a project or time at an institution seem to inspire the most appreciation and admiration.
  4. Encourage work-life balance. Those who excel at mentorship are open to discussions about personal life, exploring topics such as family and hobbies. Not only do they discuss life outside of work, they encourage pursuing it. Mentors who organize outings and spend time with their students in a social setting are also viewed favorably by mentees.
  5. Serve as a role model for mentorship. In both articles cited, surveyed mentees describe a desire to utilize the practices of their mentors as they move in their careers from students to teachers. Similarly, those who have been nominated for awards in mentorship give credit to those who had previously served as mentors to them. It seems that great mentors beget great mentors.

Here are a few links if you’re interested in learning more about mentorship (and being an active mentee!):



  1. Lee A, Dennis C, Campbell P. Nature’s guide for mentors. Nature 2007 Jun;447(14):791-797.
  2. Cho CS, Ramanan RA, Feldman MD. Defining the ideal qualities of mentorship: a qualitative analysis of the characteristics of outstanding mentors. Am. J. Med. 2011 May;124(5):453-458.