What do practicing physicians remember about their medical school experience? What do they feel had the greatest impact on their development? What do they retain? My guess, based on many reunions and even more conversations with graduates, is that it’s not the classes, labs or examinations, but rather the faculty they encountered along the way. Of course we all remember the “characters” and the “larger than life” personalities that populate every medical school, but it’s those faculty with whom we were fortunate enough to develop a personal, one-on-one relationship that have the most enduring and significant impact on our development as physicians, and on our personal lives. We call such folk “Mentors”.
The derivation of the word “mentor” is interesting. The origin is Greek and is traced to Homer’s Odyssey. Mentes was a wise and valued friend of Odysseus to whom he entrusted the education of his son Telemachus when he set out on his epic voyage. The elements of wisdom and trust are therefore intertwined in the term, qualities obviously central to the role as we understand it today.
The value of mentorship is well known in all facets of professional education. It’s this realization that leads many schools and departments to deliberately develop programs designed to promote these mentoring relationships. At Queen’s, we have developed a program that assigns a mixture of students from all years in groups led by two faculty members. Like all such programs, much depends on the specific and usually unpredictable “chemistry” that develops among the group. When it works (and it usually does) the relationships that emerge are highly rewarding. Below I provide testimonials from two students and one faculty member regarding their mentorship experience that may provide some insights.
In a 1973 article “Indoctrination of the Medical Student” Dr. Vilter pointed out that turning a new, eager medical student into a competent, caring physician takes more than just training in science, more even than just training in science and clinical skills. The mentorship program at Queen’s has been a special part of my indoctrination to the profession. Our group’s main goal is to have fun in a relaxed way but I am always surprised at the impact of these casual interactions. Whether it be a night of bowling, an intense night of trivia or a simple evening over shared drinks and food, I always leave more energized and excited about what’s to come.
When a clerk in your mentorship group gives you a tip for the wards next year, you don’t forget. When the fourth year students graduate, you celebrate with them and picture yourself walking across the stage in a few years’ time. When a mentorship group leader encourages you to dream big, you might just.
And a few more interesting links that I have come across about mentorship in medicine:
Trivia…or is it? – this is a link to a post on my blog about trivia night earlier this year
Being a Mentor for Undergraduate medical Students Enhances Personal and Professional Development
Mentoring Programs for Medical Students- a review of the literature
Informal Mentoring Between Faculty and Medical Students
The Queen’s Medicine Mentorship Program has provided me the opportunity to have informal interaction and communication with Queen’s faculty and residents that I wouldn’t be able to experience anywhere else. In the hospital or after a lecture, it is hard to just walk up to a physician to inquire about what they enjoy about their profession or how they balance their personal lives with their work. Through the mentorship program, I have been able to build relationships with faculty and residents in a more relaxed atmosphere that is conducive to conversations about one’s future directions in medicine. Additionally, the mentorship program has also increased that sense of Queen’s community for me. As a pre-clerkship medical student, it can be intimidating to enter the hospital during your first clinical experiences. With something like the mentorship program in place, you begin to see the quality of physicians we have here at Queen’s and the encouraging, open teaching environment that they create. Ultimately, this interaction and positive community that the mentorship program has created for me has contributed to my learning and career exploration as a Queen’s medical student.
It is About Mentorship
Being a mentor in the mentorship program has been one of the most exciting aspects of being on faculty at Queen’s. At my mentorship group’s last meeting, we had breakfast. For our group, breakfast was a good time to get everyone together without the distractions that can happen with an evening out.
One of the first year students asked if we should have an agenda for the meeting, but the senior students just laughed. The agenda is always the same. I ask the senior students: “what is cool in what you are doing right now”? They answer, in the usual spectrum of experiences, and the junior students say: “wow, how do I get to do that”! That is mentorship in action.
While I enjoy checking in with all the students to see what is cool or if they are struggling, I think the students would rather hear from their near peers. I see our relationships not so much as a vertical structure, but a horizontal one. The clerk explains how to get an elective to the second year student. The second year student describes the observership program as a kind of “back stage pass” to the first year student.
Our group has enjoyed the group events and while I couldn’t make the “Great Mentorship Race & BBQ” in the park this spring, our group was well represented. Over the years we have had fun with Guitar Hero, and had pot luck suppers (which means that everyone has some food that they can surely eat without looking into all the dietary restrictions).
At the Convocation in May, I enjoyed meeting the family of one of my mentees. He said: “Dad, this is Dr. O’Neill, I beat him at guitar hero the second month of medical school. You couldn’t believe it when I told you we were playing guitar hero in his basement. I smoked him at guitar hero. In spite of that, three years later he taught me how to deliver a baby.”
In the years to come, memories of delivering a baby might fade in this future internist, but I will bet he will remember beating me at guitar hero. He may never know that I let him win.
And so it seems mentoring is truly a “win-win-win” proposition, benefiting both parties involved, as well as our school, which is becoming known for the value we place on faculty-student interactions at many levels. We’re always looking for more faculty willing to become involved in this program. If you’re interested, or simply wish to learn more about it, feel free to contact myself, Peter O’Neill or Erin Meyer in the UG office who coordinates the program. Erin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.