Kenneth V. Iserson, M.D., MBA
Professor Emeritus, The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ

Selecting a medical school mentor is serious business. When you were born, you could not choose your parents. You now, however, have a choice of mentor. Make no mistake about it; you are choosing a surrogate parent for your career. At best, your mentor can simplify the process of selecting your specialty, choosing a desirable residency program, and getting into that program. At worst, a mentor can obstruct your decision-making process by putting roadblocks in the way of a correct personal choice.

Your mentor is the individual who will help you make the most of your medical school education. Ideally, he or she will get you over the rough spots, show you opportunities that you otherwise might miss, guide your career, and generally think of your interests above those of other medical students. Your mentor is your guide, your teacher, your role model. But finding one is up to you. It will take effort, initiative, and assertiveness on your part to locate the right individual. The choice is yours—you can either find a mentor or resign yourself to struggling through on your own.

When seeking a mentor, start early to have the widest possible options. You’re looking for:

  • The right type of person: A clinician, experienced, approachable, understanding, and open-minded.
  • A known teacher: Someone that other students consider an excellent teacher.
  • Someone without “specialty blinders”: Willing to guide you to your most appropriate specialty—not simply to the one they practice.

If you’re in doubt about the importance of acquiring a good mentor, rather than a randomly assigned “advisor,” ask some of your clinical faculty. They will generally be happy to tell you how their mentor helped them or how the lack of a good mentor hurt them throughout the entire specialty selection/residency application process.


Based on: Iserson’s Getting Into a Residency: A Guide for Medical Students, 8th edition
Tucson, AZ: Galen Press, Ltd.


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