Here six spine surgeons discuss the traits that make for great spine surgeon mentors.
Ask Spine Surgeons is a weekly series of questions posed to spine surgeons around the country about clinical, business and policy issues affecting spine care. We invite all spine surgeon and specialist responses.
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Question: What trait(s) are essential for a good mentor?
Rojeh Melikian, MD, DISC sports & Spine Center, Marina del Rey, Calif.: I think every good mentor remembers what it was like to be at their mentee's stage in their career. They understand what advice they can offer to avoid common pitfalls and also appreciate that some lessons can only be learned by allowing their mentee to make mistakes.
Brian R. Gantwerker, MD, The Craniospinal Center of Los Angeles: Mentors are counselors, confidants and sounding boards for your ideas and they help form the way you practice. They should be patient, not judgmental and confident. There is no such thing as a perfect mentor, and I think one has to seek different kinds of help from different people. I have had the good fortune of having great mentors during my training and fellowship. I oftentimes hearken back and see how they handled similar situations to the ones I encounter in every day practice. I also think paying it forward, and helping out students, residents and colleagues in need is mutually beneficial and is a worthwhile thing.
Kern Singh, MD, Minimally Invasive Spine Institute, Chicago: The ability to relate no matter the age difference. My mentors have always been there for me both on a personal and professional level.
Richard Kube, MD, Founder, CEO, Prairie Spine & Pain Institute (Peoria, Ill.): A good mentor should be able to coach in such a way that allows the mentored individual the benefit of his or her mentor's experience while still being able to generate experiences of their own. In other words, the mentor is helping one to avoid pitfalls and major mistakes, but not creating a bubble environment where learning occurs in a vacuum. When starting out, you really don't know what you don't know, and those holes or gaps can be filled by the mentor's experiences. A good mentor focuses more on teaching how to think rather than what to think. That way, as the world evolves, one can adapt and change with it and have opportunity to always try to lead rather than follow.
Richard D. Guyer, MD, President, Texas Back Institute, Plano: As the Texas Back Institute Spine Fellowship Director since 1987, I have mentored over 110 U.S. spine fellows and over 30 international fellows. The traits of a good mentor begin with a being a good role model with high ethical and moral standards, both at work as well as at home. The mentor should love his/her work and be passionate and enthusiastic. Teaching should be by example and by encouraging learning and excellence, rather than spoon-feeding. The Socratic Method helps the student build confidence and teaches them how to think. And lastly, a mentor should never ask a student to do anything that he himself has never done.
Plas T. James, MD, Atlanta Spine Institute: I believe a good mentor should always be patient and available. Communication is very important. When someone is learning, they will have questions, and the mentor needs to be patient and considerate, available when necessary and able to communicate with the individual in a way that promotes understanding and learning.