RSNA 2017: 3 key lessons about developing relationships between mentors, mentees in radiology

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 - Alexander Norbash, MD
Alexander Norbash, MD

Mentor/mentee relationships are crucial in any healthcare specialty, and radiology is no exception. Tuesday morning at RSNA 2017 in Chicago, Alexander Norbash, MD, shared some lessons he has learned over the years while working to help develop strong relationships between mentors and mentees.

Norbash, who serves as the chair of radiology and a professor at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, began by highlighting just how important such relationships can be to the success of any radiologist. He added that an individual is likely not going to have just a single mentor in their life but a panel of several.

Norbash then detailed his own personal history of mentors over the years, explaining how each one helped him in their own ways.

“Each of these individuals taught me different things and they are experts in different domains,” he said. “It’s not about a one-on-one relationship—it’s about how the advisee is celebrated and valued by the community of mentors. I think one of the biggest challenges we have is creating that sense of community.”

So what can institutions do to help build that “sense of community” and build long-lasting mentor/mentee relationships? These are three lessons Norbash learned from his own experience in this area.

1. Mentor/mentee relationships can’t be forced

Sure, a leader can make one employee mentor another employee, whether they want to or not—but can anything actually be gained by going that route? Norbash doesn’t believe so.

“At a certain level, mentoring is extremely personal,” Norbash said. “You have to like the person you are advising, and the advisee has to like and respect their mentor.” Individuals may often find themselves working with colleagues they don’t like, but that’s much harder to work through when you are supposed to trust the other person in that relationship and care about their perspective.

2. We must learn from our mistakes

Norbash recalled that he has witnessed multiple attempts to develop strong mentor/mentee relationships that he felt were ultimately failures. However, he was quick to add, those “failures” must be studied if you want to help push things forward overtime instead of remaining stagnant.

“There has to be an analysis of the failures and the successes that allows you to derive the information necessary to evolve the process,” Norbash said. He also noted that, when getting feedback from people who have one through a mentorship program, straightforward questionnaires aren’t as helpful in as detailed interviews, though those can be “incredibly time-consuming.”

3. Ideally, mentors and mentees come from the same department

Whenever possible, a mentor and mentee should be “within the boundary of a team or department.” A primary care physician, for example, might be able to mentor someone from a radiology department in the right circumstances, but there’s a far greater chance that such a relationship would not succeed.

Norbash said the two individuals don’t necessarily have to be in the same section, but coming from the same department can truly make a significant difference.