Parenting is one of those things most of us end up doing but never get any full training on. It’s awkward. Some people are good at it; some people are terrible at it. Sometimes we never know if the parent is simply terrible at parenting, if they have a terrible child, or if there is just a combination of bad factors. However, there are some people who end up being excellent parents and taking their excellent parenting skills and bringing them into their work lives. It’s beautiful, and despite the fact that many of us have parents, I find that it’s always special to have an extra set of hands to continue guiding learners.
I was fortunate to be surrounded by several wonderful mentors in medical school. They all came from various walks of life, with all of them having boundless knowledge to provide to me. However, the best mentors were those who treated me like I was their child. I remember the first time a mentor of mine treated me like their child. It wasn’t in the way that I thought it would feel. I was extremely hungry; I had run from one clinic to the next in the afternoon. I hadn’t had an opportunity to eat anything that day, and I remember feeling very overwhelmed about the idea of being late. A patient had come into clinic that my attending indicated that he wanted to quickly see alone. He heard my stomach growl, and he casually asked me if I had eaten yet today. I said no, and I will never forget the look on his face. He seemed so appalled that I didn’t take care of myself. He rushed me off to the cafeteria to get something to eat and told me I wouldn’t have to worry about seeing patients unless I had had something to eat. It was a feeling of warmth which I had had and I remembered. I remember again that there was a time I brought no lunch to clinic due to wanting to move quickly to be on time. I took the profession too seriously, and my attending looked at me quickly and said calmly, “We’ll be OK, let’s order lunch!” These attendings thought about me not only as if I were another person, but as though I were a person they could nurture and care for.
While it might not make everyone comfortable, I felt fortunate that anyone loved me enough to treat me with the kindness and love that they would treat their own child. During training, I don’t always need to be treated with respect and the equality that one might offer to a colleague. Mentorship can be a lot like parenting. Sometimes, I need someone to sit with me and talk to me as though I know less than them, but with the love they would give to an offspring.
I need my hand held sometimes. Other times, I need the independence to grow on my own and to roam and explore. Sometimes I need to make my own mistakes. Other times, I need to avoid making mistakes so I won’t hurt myself or someone else. I need to know what will work for me. However, we commonly find mentors who we want to be like—so we copy them in every way. We carry our stethoscopes in the same ways they carry them. We put our hair up in ponytails like they do. My sparkly nail polish commonly matches my attending’s and I even want the same engagement ring as hers.
However, I want to be better than her. I want to observe her mistakes, and I want to grow so I can be even better than she is now. This is what she would want. I also dread the possibility of disappointing her. I want to make her proud. I tell her my grades, my failures, and my concerns. We celebrate my successes and we talk about our families.
Above all, thank you. Thanks for being my doctor mom! Thank you for noticing when something was hard for me. Thank you for noticing when I was nervous or hurt. Thank you for noticing that I was trying, even when I was failing. Thank you for thinking of me and making me part of your family. This journey is hard every day. We all need people in our corners who care for us. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I see my tremendous growth only because of what only feels like parenting at its best when working with my mentors. My strengths, my failures, strategies to improve, and how much they cared for me enough to ensure that I ate. This is quality care and mentoring. Thank you for parenting me.
Micaela Stevenson is a medical student.
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