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Objective: The authors sought to describe characteristics of effective mentoring relationships in academic surgery based upon lived experiences of mid-career and senior female academic surgeons.

Background: Prior qualitative work describes characteristics of successful mentoring relationships. However, no model exists of effective mentorship that is specific to academic surgery.

Methods: The authors conducted in-depth interviews with mid-career and senior female US academic surgeons about the impact of mentoring on professional development during 2014 and 2015. Purposive selection aimed to maximize institutional, specialty, years in career, and racial diversity. Grounded theory method was used to generate a conceptual model of effective mentoring relationships. Data saturation occurred following 15 interviews.

Results: Interviewees described the need for multiple mentors over time with each mentor addressing a unique domain. Interviewees suggested that mentees should seek mentors who will serve as strategic advisors, who will be unselfish, and who engage with diverse mentees.

Conclusions: This study identified a need for multiple mentors across time and disciplines, and identified 3 key characteristics of effective mentoring relationships in academic surgery. Future work in this area should generate an operational definition of mentorship that supports quantitative evaluation of mentor and mentoring panel performance.

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