Survey Reveals Key Traits Sought in Mentors

Mentorship in cardiothoracic surgical training has an important influence on personal development, career selection, advancement, and productivity. Despite its importance, mentorship has remained uncharacterized, and its specific role among residents has not previously been assessed adequately. 

Cardiothoracic Surgical Education

Tuesday, January 30
3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Rooms 220-221

In a session this afternoon, Elizabeth H. Stephens, MD, PhD, of New York Presbyterian Hospital, will share results from questions related to mentorship in the 2017 Thoracic Surgery Directors Association/Thoracic Surgery Residents Association In-Training Exam Survey. The survey asked about characteristics that residents want in their mentors and the current gaps residents are experiencing in mentorship.

Virtually all residents (91%) responded that they valued mentorship and considered it crucial to success. They reported that most of their mentors were mid-career and focused on both clinical practice and research.

“This group of mentors had certain perceived benefits, such as leadership, inclusion in research, and advice regarding research,” said Dr. Stephens. “Mentors at different career stages and clinical or research focus bring different strengths.”

The survey also revealed that residents highly valued mentorship that could guide their career paths in areas such as obtaining interviews and networking. However, of those residents who currently had mentors, nearly a quarter said they lacked mentorship in these areas.

Dr. Stephens said the results indicated a number of differences between what residents were seeking in mentors and the impact of the mentor. “The role of mentorship, including traits sought and its impact, changes throughout training and also varies with gender and program type,” she said.

With regard to gender, more female residents than male residents valued mentors who could serve as role models and help with networking. Women also reported that their mentors were less effective than they desired in teaching technical skills and clinical ability. “It’s unclear if these findings are related to the different traits valued by women or to mentors being less effective in imparting specific knowledge and training to women,” said Dr. Stephens. 

Can Social Media Bridge the Mentorship Gap?

“Women in surgery often report a lack of mentorship as a significant obstacle to career progression and job satisfaction and also value same-sex mentors as sharing a sense of history and understanding of both personal and professional career paths,” said Mara B. Antonoff, MD, of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, another presenter.

Unfortunately, same-sex mentors for women are lacking in surgery—especially in cardiothoracic surgery, where women represent only about 5% of practicing cardiothoracic surgeons.

Dr. Antonoff and her coauthors hypothesized that social media is a useful supplement to physician and trainee interactions, particularly for women in cardiothoracic surgery who may lack access to same-sex mentors at their own institutions. In a separate survey, the researchers asked trainees in various surgical specialties about the role of social media in enhancing mentorship.

The results showed that approachability, ability to match by field of interest, availability, and sharing of information about daily life made prospective mentors on social media more attractive to all surgical trainees. Compared with trainees in other surgical specialties, cardiothoracic surgery trainees were more likely to say that they valued the role of same-sex mentorship in their career path but lacked exposure to same-sex mentors at their own institutions. In addition, cardiothoracic surgery trainees were more likely than other surgical trainees to use social media for building a network of same-sex mentors. They also were more likely to seek advice from same-sex mentors on work-related topics such as survival, politics, conflicts, and career planning.

“Social media brings a new dimension to networking, allowing for interactions that may be asynchronous and geographically remote,” said Dr. Antonoff. “Social media serves as a valuable tool to enhance networking and mentorship of cardiothoracic surgeons, particularly for women.”

Recognizing the importance of mentorship for the next generation of cardiothoracic surgeons, the STS Workforce on Career Development is creating a platform to connect early career mentees with mentors. Workforce members also are planning a Twitter chat this spring; visit for more details on upcoming chats.