Background: Medical students need to acquire self-directed learning (SDL) skills for effective lifelong learning. Portfolios allow learners to reflect on their progress, diagnose learning needs and create learning plans, all elements of SDL. While mentorship is deemed to be essential for successful portfolio use, it is not known what constitutes effective mentorship in this process. In-depth understanding of the SDL construct seems a prerequisite. Aims: The aim of this study was to examine how portfolio mentors perceive and approach SDL. Methods: Interviews with faculty members who mentored medical students in portfolio were audio-recorded, transcribed and analysed for themes. Results: Eight mentors participated. Qualitative analysis revealed six major themes around mentors' definitions of SDL, their perception of innate SDL abilities of medical students, their own approach to SDL, their understanding of the value of learning plans, their perceptions of students' engagement with the portfolio and the impact of the portfolio process on the mentoring relationship. Conclusions: This study revealed tensions between mentors' beliefs regarding the importance of SDL, their own approach to SDL and their perceptions of students' SDL skills. Based on our analysis of these tensions, we recommend both explicit faculty development and institutional culture change for successful integration of SDL in medical education.
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