Thirteen years ago, I embarked on a career in medicine as a nontraditional student. I had a career before medicine, a five-month-old baby, and limited networks and resources. I knew I wanted to be an emergency physician and leader but had no idea how my goals would intersect with practice, medical school, and residency. I needed a mentor. Over the years, I have invested in surrounding myself with a community of mentors. These are people who share my passion for changing the world through medicine. A community of mentors also guarantees their mentee a collective advantage of years of experiences and even mistakes. My career and life journey have been immeasurably enhanced by an amazing community of mentors: Dr. Ken Butler, Dr. Joanne Oakes, Dr. Obi Nnaemeka, Dr. Kevin Klauer, Dr. Angela Siler Fisher, Dr. Andrea Green, Dr. Arlo Weltge, and my sister-mentor, Dr. Trish Stephens.
Needless to say, I have some concrete advice for anyone trying to select a good mentor.
Ask for a Formalized Mentor/Mentee Relationship
I met my first mentor, Dr. Ken Butler, during my first week in medical school. Ken was a seasoned emergency medicine attending who somehow understood how difficult medical school must be for a new mother. From the beginning, I specifically asked for a mentor relationship. In retrospect, perhaps few medical students had asked for such a relationship. Asking for a mentor relationship focuses both the mentor and mentee on a group of objectives and a distinct time framework for achieving them. A formal relationship also provides the matrix for the mentor and mentee to schedule their time commitments around the mentee’s goal. I knew I would not have succeeded in medical school had he not guided me through the potential minefields of Step II exams, planning for medical school study, and the residency selection process.
Be Open to Several Types of Mentors
I have learned that successful people need several kinds of mentors. A mentor only has to be someone solidly in your camp. They believe in you, your objectives, your dreams, and yet are not afraid of the occasional redirection. Mentors can have the same life experiences and background as you but may also have vastly different experiences. In fact, you will be pleasantly surprised to find that several mentors who may be completely different from you can provide invaluable insights and life experiences that guide you on your chosen career path. You might be a young male physician from New York City, and your mentor may be an older female physician from the Midwest. The diversity of views all converging to promote your particular agenda can be nothing short of powerful. In fact, mentors with a different background can provide critical perspectives on how the world outside your particular comfort zone intersects with your aspirations.
Choose Mentors Who Believe in Your Brand
We all have a particular brand, a representation of ourselves that is unique. Choosing a mentor is very much like choosing a board member for your cherished startup. It goes without saying that they have to be totally committed to the brand, its success, and its growth trajectory. We are used to family members who believe in our brand, perhaps in an informal way. Mentors have a formalized relationship and belief in your brand. They are willing to advocate for you, guide you through rough times and provide you with constructive feedback because they are a part of your brand and success. They have equity in your brand and will do everything possible to help you avoid failure.