Mentoring Surgeons for the 21st Century



Effective mentoring is especially critical in the training of surgeons. The practice of surgery in the 21st century is changing rapidly at every level, requiring a more complex approach to mentoring young surgeons.


This article draws on the author’s own experiences in mentoring surgeons at a large tertiary care cancer treatment center and on published reports of successful mentoring strategies at other institutions.


Besides clinical and surgical skills, surgical trainees must acquire a broad range of technical, interpersonal, administrative, and research skills. The 21st century brings special demands, including changing treatment patterns, increased diversity in trainees and in patient populations, restrictions on how we train our students, increased concerns about patient privacy, and an aging population. Besides the classic mentor/mentee relationship, different models of mentoring, including mosaic mentoring and collaborative mentoring, are being used to address these issues. Successful mentoring programs occur in institutions that maintain a culture that actively supports mentoring.


New approaches to mentoring can successfully meet the diverse needs of surgical trainees in the 21st century.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    Souba WW. Mentoring young academic surgeons, our most precious asset. J Surg Res 1999;82:113–20

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Neumayer L. Mentoring: the VA experience. Am J Surg 2003;186:417–9

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Connor MP, Bynoe AG, Redfern N, Pokora J, Clarke J. Developing senior doctors as mentors: a form of continuing professional development. Report of an initiative to develop a network of senior doctors as mentors: 1994-1999. Med Educ 2000;34:747–53

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Tosteson DC. Learning in medicine. N Engl J Med 1979;301:690–4

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Liang TJ. Odysseus’s lament: death of mentor. Gastroenterology 2000;119:1429

    Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Allen J. Perfectionism: a prescription for distress. Houston Med J 2003;July:10

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Shanafelt T, Adejei A, Meyskens FL. When your favorite patient relapses: physician grief and well-being in the practice of oncology. J Clin Oncol 2003;21:2616–9

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Gilewski T. The art of medicine: teaching oncology fellows about the end of life. Crit Rev Oncol Hematol 2001;40:105–13

    Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Ramirez AJ, Graham J, Richards MA, et al. Burnout and psychiatric disorder among cancer clinicians. Br J Cancer 1995;71:1263–9

    Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Whippen DA, Canellos GP. Burnout syndrome in the practice of oncology: results of a random survey of 1,000 oncologists. J Clin Oncol 1991;9:1916–20

    Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Kash KM, Holland JC, Breithart W, et al. Stress and burnout in oncology. Oncology 2000;14:1621–33

    Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Colletti LM, Mulholland MW, Sonnad SS. Perceived obstacles to career success for women in academic surgery. Arch Surg 2000;135:972–7

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Yedidia MJ, Bickel J. Why aren’t there more women leaders in academic medicine? The views of clinical department chairs. Acad Med 2001;76:453–65

    Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Fried LP, Francomano CA, MacDonald SM, et al. Career development for women in academic medicine: multiple interventions in a department of medicine. JAMA 1996;276:898–905

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Adler NE. Women mentors needed in academic medicine (editorial). West J Med 1991;154:468–9

    Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Morahan PS. Career obstacles for women in medicine. Med Educ 2001;35:97–8

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Association of American Medical Colleges. Specialty choice, intended practice location, and ethnic identity: career plans of the 1996 graduating medical school class. AAMC Fact Sheet 1997;1:11. Available at:

  18. 18.

    Smedley BD, Stith AY, Nelson AR, eds. Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 2003

    Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Newman LA, Pollock RE, Johnson-Thompson MC. Increasing the pool of academically oriented African-American medical and surgical oncologists. Cancer 2003;97(1 Suppl):329–34

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Blackwell JE. Networking and Mentoring: A Study of Cross-Generational Experiences of Blacks in Graduate and Professional Schools. Atlanta: Southern Education Foundation, 1983

    Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Johnson JC, Jayadevappa R, Taylor L, Askew A, Williams B, Johnson B. Extending the pipeline for minority physicians: a comprehensive program for minority faculty development. Acad Med 1998;73:237–44

    Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Johnson JC, Williams B, Jayadevappa R. Mentoring program for minority faculty at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Acad Med 1999;74:376–9

    Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Payer L. Medicine and Culture. New York: Penguin Press, 1988

    Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    US Census Bureau. 2002 Data Profiles. Available at:

  25. 25.

    Hall ET. The Silent Language. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1959

    Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Hall ET. The Hidden Dimension. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966

    Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Hall ET. Beyond Culture. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1976

    Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Diab SG, Elledge RM, Clark GM. Tumor characteristics and clinical outcome of elderly women with breast cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst 2000;92:550–6

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Vlastos G, Mirza NQ, Meric F, et al. Breast conservation therapy as a treatment option for the elderly. The M. D. Anderson experience. Cancer 2001;92:1092–100

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Pololi LH, Knight SM, Dennis K, Frankel RM. Helping medical school faculty realize their dreams: an innovative collaborative mentoring program. Acad Med 2002;77:377–84

    Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Center C, Davis M, Detre T, et al. Confronting depression and suicide in physicians: a consensus statement. JAMA 2003;289:3161–6

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Setness PA. Culturally competent healthcare: meeting the challenges can improve outcomes and enrich patient care. Postgrad Med 1998;103:38. Available at: [accessed August 30, 2005]

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to S. Eva Singletary MD.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Singletary, S.E. Mentoring Surgeons for the 21st Century. Ann Surg Oncol 12, 848–860 (2005).

Download citation


  • Mentors
  • Surgery
  • Mosaic mentoring
  • Leadership
  • 21st century