Many medical schools have programs where they pair you with an older medical student or a faculty member, which I think is a great start to introducing you to the idea of mentorship. The advantages of a good mentor are endless, and range from telling you the best books for each class (and hooking you up with someone that can sell them to you at a reasonable price) to connecting you with people that can help you land the residency you want. As you go through your classes and your clerkships, be on the lookout for mentorship opportunities. A few thoughts to help you on your search:
- It’s good to have more than one mentor. You want mentors at different stages of their careers, and who align with you in various ways, professionally and personally. Getting advice from someone who has your concerns fresh in their mind is just as helpful as someone who has had a career that you’d like to emulate and has the benefit of long term perspective. You may want a mentor that is the same gender or same ethnicity as you to help you navigate issues specific to these groups. If you’re interested in research or nonclinical aspects of medicine, finding people who can provide insight into these pathways as well as introduce you to contacts in those fields is invaluable.
- Find at least one mentor who intimidates you, and maybe even scares you a little bit. It’ll be good for you, because those mentors will challenge you to be the best that you can be. While it’s always nice to have somebody who is incredibly supportive, fear is a great motivator.
- Find someone who’s willing to be honest with you and talk about things that aren’t often discussed in the hospital. It’s important to have someone you can get genuine advice from regarding things like salaries, when to have a baby, and political issues in the department, without having to worry about how it’ll hurt your career.
- Don’t assume that your mentor has to be a mirror image of who you want to be in x number of years. One of my favorite mentors is much older than me, a man, and in a different specialty than me. If you connect with someone and feel that they have your best interest at heart, ask them for advice. They may not always get you, but honestly, sometimes having someone whom you have to explain your situation to helps you to weed out valid arguments and process your thoughts.
- If you can’t find what you need within your institution, don’t assume it’s not out there. Social media is a wonderful way of reaching out to other people who are in the same position as you. As a bonus, the anonymity that it can offer is great. There are many Facebook groups and blogs that allow you to find your tribe.
- Even if you don’t drink coffee or are just exhausted, try not to turn down an opportunity to connect one on one with someone you admire. In medical school, it’s difficult to form relationships that persist past the length of a clerkship, and with everybody being as busy as they are, it’s challenging to even approach someone to have a conversation that doesn’t revolve around patient care. If someone offers to make time for you, take it, because they may not offer again.
As the pressures of medicine increase, forming networks has never been more important. You never know when and how these connections will come through for you, so connect away!
Nisha Mehta, M.D.
Dr. Nisha Mehta is a physician and writer with interests in physician wellness, medical education, and health policy. Follow her on Twitter @nishamehtamd or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/nishamehtamd.