“Well, you may think you want to be a surgeon, now that you’re young and think you can do it all, but that will change — once children are in the picture. You’ll see how hard it is to leave them and wish you could be with them all the time.”
As a young female medical student, I seriously considered the physician’s words. I imagined what it would be like to miss soccer games and school plays. I imagined routinely having to apologize for being late or absent.
Then I imagined having children who saw their mom doing what she loved, children who were proud that their mom was a surgeon. I imagined them moving confidently through the world, knowing that they can be anything they choose, even if it’s challenging.
Advice is not benign, although it is often offered without reservation. Learners in the medical field are constantly bombarded with unsolicited advice, often from individuals they are just meeting for the first time. It creates noise during a time when many of us are asking ourselves, what is it that we want out of life?
Good advice will guide us towards our own answers, while bad advice may lead us astray. In reflecting on my medical school career, several key elements have preceded the best pieces of advice I received. First is trust. A trusting relationship is the foundation of any meaningful exchange. Trust is built through sustained dialogue and experiences that require both parties to be vulnerable.
A second critical element is to inquire about the learner’s priorities and value system. Although medicine is a commonality among us, learners are not a monolith, and many of us have had formative experiences that inform our worldview and how we choose to spend our energy.
The final element is introspection. The most impactful advice I have received has come from individuals who have spent time reflecting on their own lives and choices. They can understand nuances that influenced their own path and can be transparent on those matters. Through recognition of these nuances, they can contextualize the advice they offer, which is essential.
As we begin to gear up for another residency application cycle, it is imperative that learners receive sound advice from physicians they know and trust. It is just as crucial that physicians offering advice know themselves and something about the learners they seek to guide. Just as medicine is rooted in relationships, so too is good advising.
Ricky Anjorin is a medical student.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com