Voices: Wellness found in a mentor relationship | Leigh Cantrell, MD, MSPH

Wellness found in a mentor relationship | Leigh Cantrell, MD, MSPH

Seven years ago I joined the faculty of the University of Virginia. Fresh out of fellowship, I was assigned a mentor within my department–someone to help me settle in, learn the ropes and culture and ensure that I worked towards accomplishing all of the tasks needed for promotion. While that mentor was wonderful, it was an artificial relationship. It is the mentor that I gained by chance who has promoted my wellness and helped me deal with burnout. Many colleagues have questioned how a hand surgeon could mentor a gynecologist oncologist and I can’t explain it, but I know it works.

Leigh Cantrell, MD, MSPH

Seven years ago I joined the faculty of the University of Virginia. Fresh out of fellowship, I was assigned a mentor within my department–someone to help me settle in, learn the ropes and culture and ensure that I worked towards accomplishing all of the tasks needed for promotion.

While that mentor was wonderful, it was an artificial relationship. It is the mentor that I gained by chance who has promoted my wellness and helped me deal with burnout. Many colleagues have questioned how a hand surgeon could mentor a gynecologist oncologist and I can’t explain it, but I know it works.

Bobby Chhabra, MD, Chair of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at UVA, and I met during work on an OR Committee and my single request for advice has led to an ongoing mentorship. Little did I know that after several years on faculty the hot topic of burnout would hit a little too close to home and that Dr. Chhabra would offer me the great gift of his experiences. Hearing how he addressed wellness and burnout, the way he balanced work and life (and not always perfectly) was therapeutic.

In my research for this blog, I uncovered data that young faculty (and trainees) benefit from a mentor. A recent article by Wilkes and Feldman in The Lancet on mentoring clinical trainees outlined the four general qualities that make Dr. Chhabra such an excellent mentor:

  • The mentee wants to emulate them
  • The mentor is approachable and trustworthy
  • The mentor can, wants to and will help the mentee
  • The mentor makes himself/herself available to the mentee and is responsive

In my own life, I have found mentorship helps combat burnout and promote wellness. While I wish that I could bestow a “Chhabra” mentor to everyone, I realize that I am extremely fortunate to have found, by chance, someone who is both mentor and friend.

As you strategize your wellness, I encourage you to make time for mentorship, both as mentor and mentee. For further information, I highly recommend the articles below. As the Wilkes and Feldman article states:

“The time constraints that lead to burnout are, ironically, the exact reason you must devote time to create a valuable relationship with your mentor.”

“Your mentor is not your therapist. However, they are a resource to help you thrive.”

“Your mentor is your advisor…. mentorship is a ‘replenishing factor’ for the ‘coping reservoir,’ alongside psychological support, social activities, and intellectual stimulation.”

References

Leigh Cantrell, MD, MSPH, is an Associate Professor of gynecologic oncology at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA.

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