Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 72–78

A Systematic Review of Qualitative Research on the Meaning and Characteristics of Mentoring in Academic Medicine

Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s11606-009-1165-8

Cite this article as:
Sambunjak, D., Straus, S.E. & Marusic, A. J GEN INTERN MED (2010) 25: 72. doi:10.1007/s11606-009-1165-8



Mentorship is perceived to play a significant role in the career development and productivity of academic clinicians, but little is known about the characteristics of mentorship. This knowledge would be useful for those developing mentorship programs.


To complete a systematic review of the qualitative literature to explore and summarize the development, perceptions and experiences of the mentoring relationship in academic medicine.


Medline, PsycINFO, ERIC, Scopus and Current Contents databases from the earliest available date to December 2008.


We included studies that used qualitative research methodology to explore the meaning and characteristics of mentoring in academic medicine. Two investigators independently assessed articles for relevance and study quality, and extracted data using standardized forms. No restrictions were placed on the language of articles.


A total of 8,487 citations were identified, 114 full text articles were assessed, and 9 articles were selected for review. All studies were conducted in North America, and most focused on the initiation and cultivation phases of the mentoring relationship. Mentoring was described as a complex relationship based on mutual interests, both professional and personal. Mentees should take an active role in the formation and development of mentoring relationships. Good mentors should be sincere in their dealings with mentees, be able to listen actively and understand mentees' needs, and have a well-established position within the academic community. Some of the mentoring functions aim at the mentees’ academic growth and others at personal growth. Barriers to mentoring and dysfunctional mentoring can be related to personal factors, relational difficulties and structural/institutional barriers.


Successful mentoring requires commitment and interpersonal skills of the mentor and mentee, but also a facilitating environment at academic medicine's institutions.


mentoringacademic medicinesystematic reviewqualitative research

Supplementary material

11606_2009_1165_MOESM1_ESM.doc (46 kb)
Appendix 1(DOC 46 kb)
11606_2009_1165_MOESM2_ESM.doc (34 kb)
Appendix 2(DOC 34 kb)
11606_2009_1165_MOESM3_ESM.doc (52 kb)
Appendix 3(DOC 52 kb)
11606_2009_1165_MOESM4_ESM.doc (99 kb)
Appendix 4(DOC 99 kb)

Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dario Sambunjak
    • 1
    • 2
  • Sharon E. Straus
    • 3
  • Ana Marusic
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.Croatian Medical JournalZagrebCroatia
  2. 2.University of Zagreb School of MedicineZagrebCroatia
  3. 3.Department of Medicine, Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, St. Michael’s HospitalUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  4. 4.Department of AnatomyUniversity of Split School of MedicineSplitCroatia