Published: February 1, 2022


The art of mentorship is to motivate and challenge individuals to reach beyond their comfort zone and to achieve levels that were not previously recognized.

Ken Yanagisawa, MD, AAO-HNS/F PresidentKen Yanagisawa, MD

AAO-HNS/F President
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
- Winston Churchill

In our personal and particularly our professional lives, we all seek a champion to help us discover, germinate, and grow our seeds of potential. We are fortunate in otolaryngology to be blessed with so many amazing mentors to teach and guide us to realize our hopes and ambitions.

Mentorship comes in many flavors. Some guide by example. Others are more vocal, articulating and delineating steps in the pathways to discovery. The art of mentorship is to motivate and challenge individuals to reach beyond their comfort zone and to achieve levels that were not previously recognized. As Steven Spielberg noted, “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” 

As a mentor, complete dedication and prioritization of this role is critical. It takes time and energy, precious commodities in our current world. Showing our humanistic side conveys trust and confidence and can bolster a mentor-mentee relationship.

As a mentee, schedule protected times to meet with your mentor and to work united as a team. Be punctual for appointments avoiding distractions. Actively listen, set common goals, boldly put into motion ideas or strategies, and grow together. 

The two-way learning process of mentoring is priceless—just as mentors share wisdom with the mentee, mentors often learn much about themselves in the process. 

The beneficial cycle of mentoring was reflected in a study that showed nearly 90% of individuals who are mentored will proceed to mentor others themselves. Incorporating new skillsets, participating in networking with other colleagues, and building confidence with successes and even daring to venture forward will often lead to a desire to give back and help the next round or generation of mentees.

My personal and professional mentor was my father, Dr. Eiji Yanagisawa, who taught me to always believe in myself, and to approach all projects with hard work, honesty, and respect. Dr. Linda Bartoshuk, a pioneer in taste research at Yale, instilled in me an appreciation of the beauties and perils of scientific research, and maintaining perseverance even when things looked grim— these extrapolated into valuable life lessons. Of course, natural mentors for most of us are our residency or program chairs and faculty, and there is increasing attention toward mentorship programs in training curriculums. My chair, the late Dr. Clarence Sasaki, mentored brilliantly by example and by expectation. 

Our Academy’s framework permits many opportunities for members to identify and discover mentors. To name a few:

AAO-HNS Mentorship Program matches medical students with otolaryngologists to learn about the pathway to otolaryngology residency and life as an otolaryngologist. 

Committees are an excellent forum for new and young members to join and learn from experienced members.

Board of Governors is our grassroots member network comprised of local, state, regional and national societies. This is a wonderful venue for members to join, learn, and be mentored in the vital areas of advocacy and socioeconomic affairs. 

Sections of the AAO-HNS – Women In Otolaryngology, Young Physicians Section, Section for Residents and Fellows-in Training. These sections (and the Diversity and Inclusivity Committee) are unique and wonderful “homes” for members and serve to bring vision, strategies, and understanding about success and advancement within our organization and provide valuable leadership tract offerings. 

Private Practice Study Group is an exciting group that is quickly gaining traction and strength in uniting private practitioners from around the country, including those who struggled to feel connected to our Academy. This venture will bring important mentorship and leadership opportunities, especially as it continues to grow into Section status.

As we hopefully return to more in-person events, take advantage of the many opportunities to connect with colleagues and trainees, share stories and experiences, seek advice, and solidify bonds and relationships. As we are all aware, many mentorships do come to an end, but it is particularly rewarding to rekindle previous mentor-mentee relationships on a periodic basis as we progress through our life adventures together. 

If one ever questions his/her capabilities or options, seek a trusted mentor’s advice and counsel, and, “Dream until your dreams come true.” – Aerosmith 

More from February 2022 – Vol. 41, No. 1