The Importance of Quality Mentoring

High quality mentoring has been shown repeatedly to be a key determinant of successful scholar outcomes in academic medicine.  Indeed, the literature has adeptly characterized specific qualities of mentors and models of mentoring that promote success and growth of faculty[1].  Mentee success is defined as mentees having gained 1) personal and professional competencies necessary to define his/her career goals, 2) experience needed for that career, and 3) the ability and opportunity to progress toward that chosen career goal.

In addition to targeting specific goals and competencies, the way in which mentoring is conducted is an important factor to consider.  After developing a competency based research mentor training curriculum[2], Pfund et al. (2014)[3] utilized a randomized controlled trial of a structured mentor training curriculum (RCT), concluding that a competency based program can improve mentoring skills.  The curriculum utilized for this RCT is the basis of the training provided via the Research Mentor Training.

Beyond the competencies and structure of mentor training, it is also recognized that it is rarely a single mentor who will facilitates the success of a mentee in academic medicine, but rather a series of mentors or in rarefied cases a network of mentors, established to address individual interests, a range of expertise, academic rank, and diversity[4].  New models continue to emerge for successful mentoring.  For example, the Matrix model of mentoring applied by the University of Utah, that includes self, senior, scientific/research, peer, and expert staff mentorship, has shown successful outcomes for scholars with higher rates of retention and promotion for participants compared to other scholars at University of Utah not involved with the program[5].  The program demonstrated the successful approach of leveraging existing internal and external resources such as pre-existing departmental efforts, the UTAH office of faculty affairs and human resources, and the infrastructure of NIH-supported programs and centers.  Some efforts at Penn are not dissimilar. For example, ITMAT Education established a team mentoring algorithm that is complemented by a coexisting mentor training program established in partnership with CHOP and a mentee training initiative that is embedded in the professional development core of the MTR program. 

With the identification of competencies and models that contribute to successful mentoring and in turn mentee success, an important next step is evaluation. Meagher et al. (2011)[6] conducted a review of literature to provide perspectives on how to approach evaluating mentors. Pfund et al. (2016)[7] continued to build on this inquiry, seeking to identify which competencies contribute to key outcomes of mentee success.  With this in mind,  proliferation and participation in a nationally recognized model for mentor training can serve to provide important data for the field of mentoring in academic research.

The Evolution of Mentoring in ITMAT Education

Since inception in 2004, The Master in Translational Research Program under the direction of Emma Meagher, MD has continued to develop a model of team mentoring. At the time of matriculation into the MTR, a mentorship team is formed for each student. The composition of the team is determined by the research project and is typically composed of the primary research mentor, a secondary mentor, a biostatistics mentor and a MTR program mentor. This team serves as an ongoing monitoring group for the scholar’s progress.  Its members are faculty with expertise relevant to both the basic and clinical aspects of the candidate’s research and each is expected to contribute their expertise to fostering the candidate’s research progress. An additional area of focus for the mentoring team is to cultivate the student’s skills to be an effective member of a research team and impart approaches to leading a research team.

The primary mentor provides the direction for the research project and scientific components of training. The secondary mentor may provide the clinical expertise for a basic science research project to ensure translational applicability or serve as a business mentor for an entrepreneurial science scholar.  The program mentor is responsible for the overall transition of the student through the program, for the completion of the curricular elements, the professional development core and the research project. They also provide guidance on grant submission and overall career counseling from the objective viewpoint of a faculty member not directly involved in the scientific progress of the project.  The biostatistics mentor provides guidance on the statistics plan proposed for the research project, the data analysis for the thesis and future grant submissions. All four members of the mentor team play a key role in the scholar’s development and submission of a mentored career development award.

Mentor Training for Faculty

The Institute for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics, in partnership with The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute, offers an annual training focused on enhancing the research mentoring skills of faculty.

Target Audience

Faculty at the “late” Assistant Professor (final 3 year appointment) or higher rank who are actively involved in mentoring clinical, translational, basic science, community-based and behavioral research trainees or junior faculty.  Each cohort is limited to 15 participants.

The Training

Five two-hour interactive sessions designed to enhance specific skills in being an effective mentor, solve current mentoring challenges, and learn from experienced colleagues. Topics include enhancing communications skills, aligning expectations, valuing diversity, fostering independence, promoting self-efficacy among mentees, and encouraging more effective work/life integration for both mentors and mentees. More info on the curriculum is available (here – need link)

There is no cost to participate and participants are eligible for up to 17 AMA PRA Category 1 Credits™.


Dennis Durbin, MD, MSCE and Emma Meagher, MD.  Both are designated master facilitators in the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN).



The Numbers

As of May 2017, over 100 faculty from the PSOM and CHOP have participated. Based on feedback received from 52 faculty (77.6% response rate) who participated in 2012-2014 (52% male, 48% female), 85% would recommend the training to a colleague and 94% thought the training was a valuable use of their time.

Participants rate their competency in a number of different domains on a 7-point scale (1= lowest, 7= highest) prior to and following the training workshops. Table 1 below summarizes the aggregate scores of participants in 2014.

Improvements were noted in all areas following training, with improvements in work/life integration competency similar to or greater than improvements in other areas. It is important to note that faculty mentors were rating not only their own sense of success in work/life integration, but their ability to guide their mentees to achieve this as well.

In addition to ratings, participants have shared the following feedback:

"I thought this training was some of the best leadership development training I've done in my 13 years in Academics."

"I appreciated the opportunity to reflect on experiences, to hear others' thoughts, and to have concrete tools to use moving forward."

"I plan to spend more time talking about plans, goals, work/life balance and expectations in the mentoring relationship."

Mentee Training for Scholars

  • Target audience: Instructors and Pre and Postdoctoral Trainees
  • Attendees participate in four two-hour case-based facilitated training sessions, designed to develop knowledge and skills in trainees to proactively and effectively navigate their mentoring relationship and career progression.
  • Topics included are identical to the Mentor Training, but formulated and delivered from the perspective of the trainees.

Mentor Resources                                                                                                   

Mentoring Partners                  

Penn/CHOP Community:

CHOP Research Institute

Faculty Affairs and Professional Development (FAPD) Program

Office of Dean

Office of Inclusion & DiversityPenn CME Office

National Community

National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN)

NIH Diversity Consortium

University of Wisconsin-Madison Research Mentoring Resources

Other Mentoring Services Provided

Both Drs. Durbin and Meagher conduct trainings and seminars in mentoring topics within the CTS community at Penn and CHOP and at institutions affiliated with NRMN.  If your department is interested in a seminar or training, we encourage you to contact us for next steps. 

[1] Sambunjak et al. (2006)

[2] Pfund et al. (2013)

[3] Pfund C, House SC, Asquith P, et al. (2014)

[4] Decastro et al. (2013)

[5] Byington et al. (2016)

[6] Meagher et al. (2011)

[7] Pfund et al. (2016)