Background Mentorship has been identified as a beneficial practice for doctors and may be particularly valuable for newly appointed consultants. It is associated with a number of potential clinical and non-clinical gains, such as enhanced job satisfaction and well-being. Despite strong support, many formalised schemes fail to launch or gain momentum. Research to date has largely focused on the gains associated with mentorship but has lacked study of the factors that facilitate uptake and maintenance of mentoring relationships by physicians. Objectives To explore perceptions of mentorship, the extent to which UK doctors appear to value mentorship and factors that may contribute to its successful use. Design Qualitative, descriptive, multi-centre study. Sample 30 doctors including registrars, those newly appointed to consultant grade, senior doctors and medical leaders from nine hospitals in the north of England. Method Semistructured individual interviews were undertaken between August and December 2013. Results Findings revealed a demand for mentorship for new consultants, with widely recognised benefits associated with its use. Several factors were identified as critical to successful mentorship relationships, including consistent understanding and expectations of mentorship between mentee and mentor, positive prior experiences, a suitable match between mentee and mentor, making time for people to act as mentors and the ensuring that mentors can meet a diverse and changing set of needs. Conclusions Mentorship for newly appointed consultants is valued, but current models of mentorship may suffer from rigid structures, mismatched expectations of participants and the absence of a culture of mentorship from training into practice. A social network approach, in which doctors have the opportunity to engage with a range of mentors through informal and naturally occurring relationships, may be one way to encourage successful and sustained mentoring relationships among doctors. An organisational culture in which mentorship is permitted and is the norm may enable such approaches to be widely adopted.