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The Traits of a True Mentor

In her February 7 The New York Times article, "What Doctors Can Learn From Musicians", medical doctor Danielle Ofri offers the term "coach" for what I believe are the traits of a true mentor--one who gives "...unflinchingly honest criticism, laced with an unfailing optimism."
Dr. Offri writes, "In music, plateaus are flatly unaccepted. When complacency creeps into my cello practice, my teacher exhorts me, 'If you aren’t improving, you are getting worse!' " The article explores the question for the medical profession, "Could a medical coach [similar to the author's musical coach/teacher] bring back the intellectual vibrancy from medical school days...?"
on February 21, 2012 12:46am
An interesting article, which makes an interesting contrast.
But in Tim Sharp's comment I think we have an example of language inflation: "teacher" becoming "mentor."  A more traditional meaning of "mentor" is a senior figure who opens doors for a junior colleague or student, helping to start a career.  When Pierre Monteux made contacts for David Zinman that brought Zinman his first engagements, Monteux was acting as a mentor.  Simon Rattle and Claudio Abbado had their orchestras hire a very young Daniel Harding; they were mentoring.  When Daniel Barenboim hires young conductors as his assistants and finds them guest-conducting opportunities, he's being their mentor.  Someone who gives unflinchingly honest criticism laced with unfailing optimism is a teacher.  As a student I'd expect no less; as a teacher this is what I aspire to be.
Best regards,
Jerome Hoberman
on February 21, 2012 7:07am
Thanks, Jerome, for your comments. According to Bozeman and Feeney, mentoring is "...a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and psycosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development, entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience. and a person who is perceived to have less." According to the literature, two of the traits of an excellent mentor include "encouragement" and "honesty about protege's strengths and weaknesses." The purpose of the blog post was to highlight these two traits.
on February 21, 2012 12:54am
Good morning, Tim,
I really enjoyed reading the full article and I completely agree.
And, by the way, doctors could also learn... to lower their hourly rates ;-)
on February 21, 2012 7:43am
"And -a one,and-a two.."  Shall we all put this in our files - whatever the title may be - that we use to remind administrators and the public about the value of music education?
Great article.  Thank you, Tim!
on February 21, 2012 9:32am
I read this artilce in the NYT several weeks ago with interest.  Since my spouse is a physician--who also LOVES music--this was a topic around our kitchen table at the time.  Many forget medicine is not only a science but an art and physicians PRACTICE medicine much like musicians do.  And that's key--they practice. In order to keep their skills up, they must DO.  And since my spouse's specialty is a surgical specialty, it is very important to keep in practice for various operations he regularly does.
In our state, the malpractice insurance carriers give discounts if you accumulate a certain number of CMEs (Continuing Medical Eduation credits). So there is an incentive to keep current, go to conventions and attend workshops.  My husband also is a member of a local organization of his specialty with monthly meetings where they are kept current and even "coached" on various aspects, from new surgeries to the best new soft ware for electronic medical records.  In medicine, "mentorship" or "coaching" is available if you want it or know where to look. Many physicians think the work is finished after med school and residency but I can tell you the BEST physicians have always known to keep in touch with their "attendings" (short for "attending physicians"--cliinical faculty from internship/residency AKA "mentors") or attendings from local university programs.  No man is an island, especially when you have a unique patient "present" in your office.  This is similar to what is suggested here--and very worthy to note.
Marie--spouse for 33 years--through med school, residency, fellowship and now, private practice--to an ENT physician