Mentorship is one of the cornerstones of growth as a clinician and student. Given that so much of medicine is learned outside of a classroom and through individual experiences, mentorship helps to clearly round out these experiences and help us grow as clinicians. I remember starting medical school and being told at every corner to look for mentors. I wanted to make sure that I was able to grow at every possible turn in the four years I had. I knew that there were research mentors that I could find, but it was hard to find mentors who can talk to you about life decisions I could make to make me happy in the future as well as how we can be successful in our clinical work. The mentors that I can find are often working out of the kindness of their own hears, and they are not getting compensated for their time mentoring other students. Only when they are interested in climbing the ladder of academia do people get any kind of clout for mentoring students and working on projects with them. However, this commonly does not best help assist students in gaining mentorship in medicine.
There are four reasons why formalized mentorship should be a requirement for medical schools.
1. Mentorship is the only way we grow. Honest feedback with investment in the people around us is the only way we grow. We need to have errors and trials to go through. We need to have opportunities where we fail and get to see what the problems were when we fail. When this is formalized, and there are specific kinds of discussions and outcomes we are expected to track, we can check in and think clearly about the next possible steps. Doing this introspection on our own is nearly impossible without someone else’s help. We may interpret situations incorrectly. We may not even know where to begin when something goes wrong.
2. There are formalized and ungraded relationships that allow us to grow. One of the most intimidating aspects about meeting with clerkship directors, coordinators, or attendings on our core rotations is that these are the people who grade us. While these people are commonly exceptionally helpful and caring, how we engage can be less than authentic because we don’t want them to hate us and give us subjectively poor grades. It’s hard to be vulnerable with these people and is near on impossible.
3. These can be regular meetings with frequent review of records and feedback. If these mentors have access to a student’s records on their performance, there will be regular structured check-ins about how they are doing in the program. While in unstructured environments, this may happen on an infrequent basis and only happens out of the goodness of the heart of the mentors who people choose to seek out. If there are formalized and paid programs that allow monthly reviews of a student’s performance, strategies can be made to move forward. This can help students who are struggling just as much as it can help students who are excelling, given that even students who are excelling have room for improvement and growth. Regularly reviewing these records with others can look for clear themes that come up and help strategize with a student any other clear areas for development.
4. These can prevent incidents from occurring in the first place. Commonly, when medical students experience incidents—such as lapses in professionalism or failing grades—this is because they did not have someone they could turn to early on and discuss what had been going on which may have led them to the issues they are currently experiencing. The presence of a mentor who has no bearing on their future career and is only there to help them move forward is someone to whom they could easily turn and ask for help. It’s nonpunitive and likely will allow them to move forward easily. We often have questions we are too embarrassed to ask anyone and wonder if our behavior is okay. We don’t know who to turn to, and we often end up turning to other students who may know just as little as we do. These relationships can help to mitigate some of this.
Micaela Stevenson is a medical student.
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