It is difficult to overstate the impact of mentorship in the professional sphere. Although formalized mentorship programs have been a long-standing part of the business world, mentorship programs in health care, and more specifically anesthesia, are a more recent phenomenon (Can J Anaesth 2012;59:241-5). The potential advantages in anesthesia are significant when you consider the high rate of personal stress and burnout in the field (Continuing Education in Anaesthesia Critical Care & Pain 2006;6:182-7). Previous work has demonstrated numerous benefits of mentorship in medicine, including improved career planning, satisfaction, and academic productivity (Can J Anaesth 2015;62:950-5; Curr Opin Anaesthesiol 2016;29:698-702). One potentially underrecognized benefit relates to resident engagement and stress management.
From a resident's perspective, residency represents a time of change, increased autonomy, and, at times, significant stress. This stress tends to be amplified during major transition points, including the transition from medical school to residency, the progression into specialty, and finally preparation for independent practice. All of these changes can bring about unique challenges and concerns, which can manifest as increased pressure and stress on the resident. Perhaps the most significant transition is the beginning of residency.
In 2016 I moved to Victoria, British Columbia, to begin my residency, without having ever traveled to the city before. Being a trainee who moved more than 2,000 miles to begin my training, I can attest to how challenging it can be to begin residency away from home supports, in a new health care environment, and with the progressive challenges and responsibilities of starting residency. Residency can be an entirely overwhelming experience; it can be further isolating establishing yourself in a new environment. Specific challenges include trying to learn the nuances of a novel hospital system and EMR, while trying to remember various logins, passwords, and door codes. As a newcomer, it often feels like everyone around you already has a leg up. Hospital orientations can help, but they are often task-focused and lack the personalization required to make a new resident feel comfortable in their environment. In addition to trying to find my way around the hospital and navigating a new health care system, I was trying to adjust to life in a new part of the country. A three-hour time zone difference with most of my family and friends back home made it more challenging to stay connected, enhancing the difficulty in finding a support system.
The potential difficulties with this transition would be further amplified in the setting of the current COVID-19 pandemic secondary to travel and social restrictions. I began my residency before the pandemic, which allowed me to maintain my support network by traveling to see loved ones. I was also able to further build upon it by participating in resident welcome events and developing relationships with my colleagues. With an inability to attend in-person academic sessions or to become engaged with resident social events, beginning residency during this time could prove all the more isolating. This is especially true for residents who are beginning their training far from home and may struggle to maintain home supports in a virtual environment.
“During the junior years, residents may reap more benefit from a mentor closer to one's own stage in training. These benefits include intimate program knowledge, such as an understanding of the nuances of different rotations, and hospital specific recommendations.”
Mentorship can serve as one bridge to ease this transition and improve resident involvement and satisfaction with their academic program. For those residents who feel truly isolated, a strong mentorship program can be a lifeline. Formalized mentorship programs, when instituted properly, can provide residents with a point of contact from the outset and engage them with program personnel early in their experience and through the transition process. This can allay resident concerns and help them to succeed in a new environment. It also provides an avenue for program leadership to receive an early signal if any residents are experiencing significant stress or need extra support.
In addition to mentee benefits, there are also a multitude of benefits to the mentor, including improved personal satisfaction and professional stimulation (Can J Anaesth 2012;59:241-5). When these mentors are residents themselves, it can further develop connections within the program, in addition to building senior residents' interpersonal and leadership skills. Resident mentors may additionally have program-specific advice and knowledge to be shared with resident mentees.
While many programs have a formal mentorship program in place, there are a variety of mentorship models in practice, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages (J Clin Anesth 2016;33:254-65). During the junior years, residents may reap more benefit from a mentor closer to one's own stage in training. These benefits include intimate program knowledge, such as an understanding of the nuances of different rotations, and hospital specific recommendations. At the University of British Columbia, we recently integrated a near-peer mentorship component to our formalized mentorship program (Can J Anaesth 2020;67:1655-7). We found that, compared to a traditional staff-resident mentorship model, residents who partnered with senior residents one level above them upon matching to our program reported improved transition to residency (Can J Anaesth 2020;67:1655-7). However, at later stages in training, residents may prefer mentorship from faculty mentors.
Regardless of the model of mentorship chosen, facilitating successful match pairs is an integral part of the mentorship program. Our program sends intake surveys to incoming residents regarding their interests (both academic and personal), hobbies, academic background, and geographic location of their medical school from which they are moving. Consideration should be made regarding residents' mentor gender preferences, as this can also impact satisfaction with mentorship matching (Can J Anaesth 2019;66:342-3). Programs can follow up with mentorship pairs to ensure successful matching and offer a rematch upon request.
Mentorship represents an investment in the future, and successful programs are able to build career-long professional connections (Curr Opin Anaesthesiol 2016;29:698-702). In addition to the well-established academic benefits of mentorship in medicine, mentorship may also help support residents through the stress of difficult transitions in their training. Vulnerable residents may especially benefit from these programs, as they may lack the support or specific program knowledge to help them succeed. Mentorship is an emerging area in our specialty that will hopefully continue to develop and evolve as time progresses.