Thank you pictureThe Case of the Magnificent Mentor outlined a common dilemma that is likely to occur with most protégés: How does one thanks his/her mentor for all their help over the years?  During this time of the year, as we look towards a new year, Brent Thoma (@Brent_Thoma) and I (@Teresa Chan) thought we would engage our readership in a bit of reflection about those who have got us to where we are today. (NB from TC & BT:  And yes, we know, this is 100% cheesy and holiday fluff – but we felt like doing something a bit more in keeping with the holiday spirit.

This follow-up post includes

  • The responses of our medical education experts, Drs. Jonathan Sherbino and Michelle Lin
  • A summary of insights from the ALiEM community derived from the Twitter discussion and comments
  • Freely downloadable PDF versions of the case and expert responses for use in continuing medical education activities

Expert Response 1

Jonathan Sherbino, MD, MEd, FRCPC
Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at McMaster University
Clinical Educator, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada

Thanks for the opportunity to be a part of MEdIC Series. Your question is a very interesting one. I don’t think there is an ‘evidence-based’ answer, but I’ll take a stab at it.

Your success is a form of ‘Thank-you’

It’s not a present, but a note of thanks that is meaningful for a mentor. In the same way that being a teacher gives you the pleasure of watching a learner achieve, being a mentor is about the pleasure you get from watching a person you have invested in succeed.

I think mentors are key in everyone’s careers – and a board of directors (multiple mentors for multiple aspects of your professional life) is even better! I would highly recommend that all medical educators become both a mentor and a mentee. The Harvard Business Review Blog recently covered this issue, suggesting that smart leaders have protégés – someone you can sponsor. Read the following paragraph from the HBR Blog by Sylvia Ann Hewlett (2013) and you’ll realize that this concept probably extends to medical education too:

Think of a sponsor as a talent scout. He’ll get his protégé … to audition for a key role. He’ll nudge them to choose her. He’ll coach her on her performance so that she proves to others what an excellent choice he made. He’ll train a spotlight on his protégé so that other directors take note of her abilities and he’ll make introductions afterward so that she can follow up with them to bring her talent to a wider audience.

A career in medical education can be a long and hard road to travel alone. Having energetic (often, younger) people around can be invigorating. Their enthusiasm can be infectious, and at times can help to bring in new ideas and perspectives. It helps, also, if they’re empathetic to your workloads, and lend a hand occasionally.

But, it doesn’t hurt to remind us (out loud) once in a while

I’m sure that students, protégés/mentees often think very fondly about their teachers. Too often, these sentiments are not articulated. It’s key to share with you mentor the impact they have had on you and provide them a touchstone.

You needn’t be extravagant!  For instance, a card (without kittens on the cover!), or my personal favourite, a book, provides a physical cue – especially if the book relates somehow to a conversation or discussion you’ve had together. The meta-message to your mentor is  “You have helped me understand this topic and I’ve started to make these connections.”

p.s. A bottle of scotch goes a long way, too!

p.p.s. Also, please consider this a thank-you to my mentees (Teresa & Brent) who have tirelessly put together a fantastic and engaging series of medical education cases. It has been a pleasure to watch you develop as Clinician Educators.

Expert Response 2:

Michelle Lin, MD
Associate Professor of EM and Academy Endowed Chair of EM Education at the University of California, San Francisco
Editor-in-Chief of Academic Life in Emergency Medicine

As an emergency physician, the mentor-mentee relationship in many ways mirrors my relationship with patients. It is my job and ethical responsibility to advocate and do what is right for my patient, using my clinician training and experience. A “thank-you” is not expected, because this is my job. Similarly my job, as a clinician in academia, is to provide mentorship to others. Knowing that I played a role in healing a patient and in the success of a mentee are both rewards unto themselves. No thank-you necessary.

The best gift

If you wanted to thank your mentor, the best gift is the gift of keeping in touch. Throughout my career, I have mentored medical students, residents, and faculty. Last year, a medical student, who is now a faculty member, emailed me to update me on his career trajectory and to thank me on specific discussions that we had many years ago. This made me think – I wonder what my other mentees are up to and whether they are succeeding in life and their career? The problem is that often their institutional emails no longer exist. Before I can scour the internet for their personal emails, quickly the avalanche of my to-do list items descends upon me.

So if you have time, a quick email update would be so much more rewarding to me as a mentor and friend than a gift-wrapped present could ever bring. I am often surprised by the lessons and bottom-line messages they gained from our mentor-mentee relationship. This reflective feedback is extremely helpful for me, because I am constantly learning how to be a better mentor (no one really teaches us how to be good mentors) and want to capitalize on things that I am doing well.

My most memorable gift

Mentor RocksThe most memorable way that I have been thanked by a mentee happened several years ago. I had shared in casual conversation that one of my random hobbies was to collect rocks from different cities and countries (see below). I would label the rocks as a geological souvenir map of sorts. The next month, I received a rock from Florida with a thank-you note.

Curated from the Community

Thank-you to everyone that participated this month in our holiday-season MEdIC case. We were excited to see a wide variety of participants from students to experienced mentors. We had selected this topic in the holiday spirit, and we were thrilled to see our community join in on this much needed discussion.


The following are gestures that Mentors thought their protégés could do to thank them:

1. Being a successful protégé:

You continued growth and commitment to excellence was something that was valued by mentors. They also valued mentees that showed they were applying and learning; dedication to the job or their work; or watching them developing their own craft or niche.

2. Staying in touch:

Some pointed out that it is also nice for mentees to reach out and TELL their mentors (phone calls, notes, cards) about their adventures, regardless of how far out they are from their original mentorship relationship. Something as simple as a tweet or an email was suggested by several participants. Participants noted it is nice to connect by phone (Robert Cooney) or to share a meal (Edmund Kwok; @eddestyle)

3. Paying it forward:

Mentoring others in return was highly endorsed by the respondents. Watching their protégés go on to become teachers and mentors was thought to be the greatest present of all.

4. Being & Staying Engaged:

Our participants mentioned this in a number of different ways. Some of the simple suggestions were: to be prepared for lessons, to contribute back to the conversation, and to have questions prepared based on the subject/content. Others found great satisfaction in seeing their mentees continue to show growth by propelling the conversation forward with new insights or teaching them something back in return.

But we are living in a Material World…

Things that people thought were nice gestures of thank-you that they have received:

  • Nominations for teaching awards
  • Contributions / donations in their name
  • Books
  • Home-baked cookies
  • Cards / Notes
  • Liquids (Coffee, latte, liquor)

There were a variety of opinions on receiving material goods. As Danica K noted, some felt gifts were a good idea while they made others uncomfortable.

Factors to Consider when showing Gratitude

Participants noted several factors to consider when giving gifts:

  1. Nature of the Relationship: It was suggested that material gifts might be best reserved for mentors who are ‘closest’ to you.
  2. Magnitude: Large material gifts tend to make mentors feel uncomfortable, according to some of the reflections we received. The definitions of large, however, varied. Some mentors found gifts of books, food or liquor to be acceptable.
  3. Timing: Giving gifts in a timely fashion was considered important. Also, giving them near major events (e.g. graduation) was thought to be a good time, and may allow one to give a slightly more substantial gift that usual. Giving a gift near holidays seemed more acceptable.
  4. Context: The situation around which a gift is given is important to consider. To prevent awkwardness, it was suggested by several people to consider giving thank-you gifts for references AFTER your successful achievement (e.g. after you have matched to residency, lest it seem like a bribe).

NB: Michelle, Brent and I also waxed philosophical about mentorship lineages. Of note, there was a survey posted on ALiEM recently on this exact topic. Of note, there has previously been a survey posted on ALiEM in the past few months on this exact topic. Take a look and see if you might be able to contribute!  Remember, nominations by former mentees was very much appreciated by mentors! Check out the link here.

A special thanks to all those who participated in our online community discussion around this case.

Twitter ParticipantsBlog Participants
Felix Ankel (@FelixAnkel)Robert R. Cooney
Teresa Chan* (@TChanMD)Esther Choo
@CancerGeekAlia Dharamsi
@ClinicalArtsLisa Fields*
Jason Frank (@DrJFrank)Nikita Joshi
Eric Holmboe (@boedudley)Danika K
Ali Jalali (@ARJalali)Joe Lex
Ernesto Juárez ‏(@DilettanteMD)Eve Purdy
Edmund Kwok (@eddestyle)Sa’ad Lahri
Nicole Swallow (@docswallow)Michelle Lin
Scott Weingart (@EMCrit)Rory Spiegel
Brent Thoma

Case and Responses for Download

Click Here (or on the picture below) to download the case & responses as a PDF.

medic document


Teresa Chan, MD, MHPE
ALiEM Associate Editor
Emergency Physician, Hamilton
Associate Professor, McMaster University
Assistant Dean, Program for Faculty Development, McMaster University Ontario, Canada
Teresa Chan, MD, MHPE


ERDoc. #meded #FOAMed Own views expressed. Contributor to @ALiEMteam, @WeAreCanadiEM, ICE Blog, #FeminEM. @MedEdLIFE founder. Works @McMasterU & @HamHealthSci