Last week I was asked to give a speech about the benefits of mentoring to a group of college alumni. Both K and I were asked if we could come and share some of our experiences with the hopes of encouraging more physicians to become part of the mentoring program. Unfortunately, K was unable to come so I had to write a long speech to fill up the time on my own. Here is what I had to say:
Although my formal mentoring relationship with K started only a year ago, I like to believe that the benefits of knowing her have impacted my medical education and career goals (and dare I say, my whole life) for almost as long as I’ve known her. I initially met K about 4 years ago when I was referred to her in my first pregnancy. I was immediately drawn to her by her genuine care and concern for my well being as her patient and I said to myself “if I ever get to be a physician, this is the type of physician I want to be: kind, caring, and genuine.”
When I was accepted into medical school, I kept the image of K as a model physician in the back of my head and the fact that one of my main interests in practicing medicine lied in obstetrics and gynecology made it all the easier to do so. I wasn’t even 3 months into medical school when I approached K and asked her if she could help me get some quality experiences shadowing in obstetrics and gynecology. Of course, she was more than willing to provide me with what I asked for and with her help, I had spent two afternoons with her in the office, a day in the OR with one of her colleagues, as well as a day shift and night shift shadowing some of the residents in the department, all before the end of my Christmas break. Along the way, K was sure to answer all of my questions, offer some advice, and check in with me to make sure that I was having the kind of experience that I was hoping to have. Since then, K has continued to help me attain wonderful learning experiences in obstetrics and gynecology.
While these experiences were an excellent start to what has become a fruitful and rewarding relationship, another important aspect of our mentoring relationship began when I started seeing her again for my second pregnancy. It was during this time that K started to offer me support and advice as it pertained to balancing family life, stress, and medical education, and she began to share some of her own personal experiences with these very same challenges. Thankfully, it was these moments that helped me to keep going even when I felt like what I faced was insurmountable. During my pregnancy and after my baby was born, K was there with a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold, and the reassuring words of encouragement and experience to help me through the challenges I faced as a mother in the field of medicine. It was shortly after the birth of my baby that I decided to ask K to be my formal mentor.
Since K and I embarked on our formal mentorship, I can confidently say that our relationship has become increasingly meaningful, educational, supportive, reciprocal, and most importantly, fun. I know K is interested and invested in me being the best medical student and future physician possible. I know I can go to her with anything: whether it is to ask a question, debrief about a difficult situation, complain about something I don’t like, talk about some of the challenges at home with my family, or even just to chat. I know she will be honest with me and tell me what I need to hear, even if it’s something I might not want to hear. She keeps me challenged, both knowingly and unknowingly, and she constantly encourages me.
I could stand up here and talk for hours about how my relationship with K has impacted me during my time in medical school. However, I think it is important to emphasize that this isn’t a one-way relationship. I always feared that maybe I wasn’t offering any benefit to K as her protégée in the relationship. I’ve come to realize, however, that she is also gaining from being my mentor. Unfortunately, K could not be here today to tell you for herself what she has gained from our mentorship, but from my own observations, I can share a little of what I think she’s experienced throughout our relationship. One thing that I have noticed is that K is always trying hard to be a better teacher, and not just to me. I have been watching her teach and interact with other learners for almost as long as I’ve known her, and it seems like the more I share my frustrations as a learner, the more she takes that information in and uses it to improve how she teaches. I may be biased, but I think she’s made some great changes! K also shares so many of her own personal experiences around being a medical student, a resident, an early attending physician, a mother, and a wife, that it must be impossible for her to not reflect over how those moments have shaped the person she is today. Maybe these are things she has forgotten along that way, maybe they are things that she would never have shared with someone else, and hopefully they are all things that remind her of how hard she works and how far she has come in her journey as a physician.
I often joke around with my husband that my medical education would be completely different if I never had a baby before starting medical school. While this would most likely be true with respect to the time I could dedicate to studying (and sleeping), it is also true regarding my mentorship with K: if I was never pregnant before medical school, I would never have met her. I consider myself extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to build my own mentorship with K because I know that without her, things would look very different for me today. Unfortunately, most junior medical students are not as lucky as I was, nor do they have the relationships or connections to even know where to start looking for a mentor. This is why I am such a strong supporter and advocate for the new Mentoring Program that is starting up this year. I think it would be amazing if every medical student could have a mentorship that is even a fraction as fruitful and rewarding as the one I have with K; and, it would be even better if they didn’t have to look too to find it.
Mentorship isn’t hard or time consuming and it is most definitely one of the best experiences I have had in medical school. This new program will tell you that mentoring means a few face-to-face meetings, some emails, and maybe some text-messages. You might think it all sounds somewhat insignificant; however, I am here to say: “that’s really all it takes.” I hope that by talking to you today, you can appreciate how rewarding the mentorship is that I share with K. As I said earlier, the mentorship really flourished over the past year. In that time we’ve only had three “official” face-to-face meetings and everything else has happened over email, text message, or through impromptu meetings in the hallways or her office at the hospital. The beautiful thing about mentorship is that it is one of the few things in life that you can get so much benefit from such a small amount of effort: all you have to do is want to share your experiences with a person who would love to hear about them. Believe it or not, it doesn’t take much time at all to make a difference in someone’s life.