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



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.

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We thank Ms Laure Perrier for her help in designing search strategies and retrieval of articles. Dr Sambunjak and Dr Marušić are financially supported in part by a grant from the Croatian Ministry of Science, Education and Sports (no. 216-1080314-0245) to Matko Marušić. Dr. Straus was supported by a Canada Research Chair.

Conflict of interest

The funders had no influence on the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis and interpretation of the data; or preparation, review or approval of the manuscript. All of the authors are teachers at medical schools and have no competing interests.

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Correspondence to Sharon E. Straus MD MSc FRCPC.

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Sambunjak, D., Straus, S.E. & Marusic, A. A Systematic Review of Qualitative Research on the Meaning and Characteristics of Mentoring in Academic Medicine. J GEN INTERN MED 25, 72–78 (2010).

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  • mentoring
  • academic medicine
  • systematic review
  • qualitative research