Medical Student Perspectives: Find a Mentor who is Right for You
Many medical schools have established programs that will set medical students up with a mentor. But the following questions are not often addressed: How do I make the most out of my mentoring program? How do I pick a mentor? How often should I contact a mentor? What should I do if I don't connect with my mentor? Do I really need a mentor? Other questions might have crossed your mind at some time, such as: I have a crazy amount of relationships to nurture at work, at school, with family, and with friends, so do I need another? What if my school doesn't have a mentoring program-are there other options to help me find a mentor? Do I need a formal program to find a mentor?
Not all students would like a mentor; however, if you would like to commiserate with someone who has a few more years of experience to help shed some perspective on your temporary misery, a mentor might be ideal for you. But if that doesn't sound appealing it is important to remember that a mentor is whatever you would like him or her to be. Would you like someone with whom to conduct research or just chat at lunchtime? Many mentors enjoy interacting with students on issues other than strictly medical school issues. The key is to figure out what type of mentor you would like to have. Be sure to define the relationship with your mentor. Factors you may be interested in considering in a potential mentor can be based upon where you both have lived or what specialties you are considering. If you begin a mentoring relationship and find that you are not satisfied, you are free to keep looking. If you are working with a formal program, you may notify the program that you are searching for another mentor, or if you are on your own, just refocus your efforts and time on finding another.
So why should you have a mentor? I'd like to tell you about a fantastic mentor of mine. My medical school had a class entitled Doctor-Patient Relationship. This class allowed second-year medical students to see doctors in practicing environments and then reflect thoughtfully on assigned topics. My randomly-assigned preceptor was Dr. Adler, whom I was asked to shadow. Dr. Adler was a gastroenterologist who had recently moved to Utah who I was eager to meet. Unfortunately, I had a sports-related traumatic-brain-injury and was in the hospital during my first scheduled appointment for this preceptorship! Dr. Adler was very understanding and accommodating and took me under his wing. He reminisced about his medical school days and internship experiences with fondness. He remained very interested in my education. I expressed interest in research and he mentioned that he would have a few opportunities available down the road. Two years later we were coauthors on three papers, two posters, and an up-and-coming book chapter. The relationship was not all business, however; we often laughed hysterically as we watched You-Tube clips. The moral of this story is that you should be sure to make the most of your mentoring relationships. One other tip that I would like to pass along: focus on finding mentors early during your medical school years. Opportunities may spring up over time as your relationships strengthen with your mentors.
If your school doesn't have its own mentoring program, ACP has an online Mentoring Database that contains hundreds of physicians, both nationally and internationally, who have volunteered to mentor medical students. Go to www.acponline.org/medical_students/mentors/ and click on "Search the Mentoring Database". There are many mentors within many fields of internal medicine who are eager to assist medical students. If for some reason you don't want to use any formal programs, how can you find a mentor? Ask senior medical students if they have been able to find good mentors, and if so, what made them great mentors. As you begin to gather information you will also begin to define your personal parameters for a mentor. Keep your ear to the ground during lectures, and attend conferences and get to know physicians at those conferences. If you find a potential mentor outside of an official program, an easy way to begin establishing a relationship is by sending an e-mail to him or her. As you write your introductory e-mail, state who you are and that you are looking for a mentor through medical school.
Mentors can break up the monotony of studying in medical school, provide empathy when needed, perspective to the tough times, and inspiration for finding a profession into which you can mold your career.
Ryan C. VanWoerkom, MD
Former Council of Student Members Representative, Midwestern Region
First Year Resident, Internal Medicine, Oregon Health Sciences University
Back to July 2010 Issue of IMpact