Intended for healthcare professionals

Career Focus

Find yourself a mentor

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 23 April 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:s170
  1. Ruth Chambers, clinical dean and general practitioner
  1. Staffordshire UniversityR.Chambers{at}


“I'm all right thank you, I can manage quite well by myself.” Is that you? Is that you keeping yourself and your dilemmas to yourself—as a young doctor, a new or established GP, a “burnt out” GP, or other doctor? As Ruth Chambers explains, you need a mentor

Why a mentor?

Well, a mentor could help you at any of these stages in your career. Sure, you can manage without, but a mentor could help to guide you and challenge you about your career. The increasing pressures in the NHS mean that it's vital to find new ways of coping and thriving at work. A mentor could enable you to reflect on your current situation, your strengths and weaknesses, and your aspirations. They could help you to grow and develop in your career, not spoonfeed or sponsor you, but help you to give yourself a push or find solutions to your career or personal issues. Box 1 describes the benefits for you.

Box 1: Why have a mentor?


  1. Boosts your development:

    • Stepping stone to other opportunities

    • Encourages your deeper insights

  2. Increases your confidence over time:

    • Supports you

    • Challenges you to justify your chosen course of action

    • Offers you alternative perspectives

    • Helps you to take control, for example, of aspects of your work or career development

  3. Encourages your reflective practice as your mentor can:

    • Act as a sounding board

    • Increase your understanding of your own environment, and influences on your performance

    • Enable you to solve problems

  4. Enhances your self-development through:

    • Action planning and learning

    • Goal setting—creating your learning contract, visualising your achievements

    • Developing your professional confidence

    • Giving you a greater understanding of the perspectives of others

  5. Increases job satisfaction


Box 2 gives a definition of a mentor that is generally accepted, so you know the sort of process you'll be engaging in, and will not have unrealistic expectations.

Here's your starting point

Think what part of your career or life a mentor can help you with. Be sure what kind of outcomes you're hoping for so you know what kind of experience, qualities, and commitment you're expecting your mentor to have.

When you read box 3 and see the sort of qualities and skills that a mentor should have, you'll wonder if you can ever find such a saint. Some of these qualities will be more important to you than others and there may be others you'd want to add, maybe relating to gender, age, type of background, or experience.

Finding a mentor

Or two. Because actually you might want one mentor who can focus on your career—and a second mentor who is experienced in another of your goals, say personal effectiveness, or even setting up in a business.

Find out from your deanery or trust if they run a mentoring scheme or can fix you up with one or more potential mentors—because you'll want a choice. No luck? Then you need to seek someone yourself. Treat finding a mentor like searching for your perfect holiday. Do your homework. Think of all the possibilities. Is there a list of people who might be willing to be mentors—in your trust, in the library, or on a website? Decide what sort of person you need, do some research, go and visit a few people and see whether or not you think you would be able to build a rapport with them in a mentoring relationship.

Box 2: Definition of a mentor

A “process whereby an experienced, highly regarded, empathic person (the mentor), guides another individual (the mentee) in the development and re-examination of their own ideas, learning, and personal and professional development. The mentor, who often, but not necessarily, works in the same organisation or field as the mentee, achieves this by listening and talking in confidence to the mentee.”2


Box 3: Qualities of the mentor you're hoping for


  • Impartial

  • Good listener

  • Supportive

  • Interested

  • Perceptive

  • Nonjudgmental

  • Trustworthy

  • Ethical

  • Respectful

  • Confidential

  • Skilled in feedback

  • Chemistry—intellectual and emotional

  • Compatible with you

  • Able to challenge


  • Experience

  • Technical expertise

  • Patience

  • Authority

  • Adviser

  • Seniority

  • Knowledge of the health service

  • Inspiring


Sometimes it is easier and more comfortable to choose somebody who has a similar personality to yourself or who has had similar professional or life experiences. Although it may feel easier to remain in your comfort zone, you may learn more from selecting a mentor who views the world differently to you and can offer a broader or more diverse perspective from your own. A mentor who challenges you will be likely to be more effective than one with whom you have a cosy relationship.