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Why the Best Medicine for the Medical Career is Mentorship

Discussion in 'Doctors Cafe' started by Hadeel Abdelkariem, Nov 30, 2019.

  1. Hadeel Abdelkariem

    Hadeel Abdelkariem Golden Member

    Apr 1, 2018
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    Many physicians look back on residency and see 3-5 years of trial by fire. Doctors recall sleep deprivation, difficult cases, and shifts that would leave a lasting impact on their practice of medicine. Some doctors can even look back and recall a senior physician who imparted doses of hard-earned clinical wisdom. One expert says that now more than ever, physician mentors are needed to usher in the new crop of doctors.


    Dr. Jacqueline Huntly, M.D., is a physician career and leadership development coach. She says that if you’re a resident looking to elevate your career, you should be on the lookout for a mentor. And if you’re a physician who has rounded more than a few times, you could help shape the next generation of doctors by becoming one.

    “Mentorship is extraordinarily important,” Huntly says. “If things aren’t going well, if you’re confused or uncertain, medicine has the potential to be kind of a lonely place. Too often, when we’re in that lonely place, we’re sure we’re the only one feeling that way. Mentorship allows us to see that it’s highly likely that others have been there before.”

    The benefits of mentors
    A frequent topic of conversation among physicians is intergenerational conflict. Huntly says mentorship can go a long way in easing the conflict in medicine and creating a sense of shared understanding. All cohorts, she says, can learn from one another.

    “I think any time you’re creating relationships based on mutual respect, you’re fostering communication,” Huntly says. “You’re reducing conflict. Doctors are exchanging ideas. While people tend to think of the mentor/mentee relationship as unidirectional, it’s actually more bidirectional.”

    With steadier communication through mentorship, more experienced physicians might see that younger physicians face challenges that their generation didn’t. They also could learn easier, more efficient ways of handling emerging technology and EHRs. Younger doctors can lean on the old guard to steer clear of pitfalls that senior physicians learned to avoid the hard way.

    This only works, however, if there’s mutual respect. For mentees, that means knowing the value of the mentor’s experience. And for the mentors, that means keeping the tone of criticism constructive.

    “Sometimes that may mean telling some uncomfortable truths, but if they’re framed in a way that is honest and nonjudgmental, then that can be very valuable,” Huntly says.

    What to look for in mentors
    When looking for a mentor, many young doctors are attracted to some of the more obvious qualities — talent and name recognition chief among them. But, Huntly says, do not overlook this critical attribute.

    “Like a lot of the best leaders, the best mentors are humble. They’re self-aware,” she says. “Not every doctor is going to be in touch with either humility or self-awareness. That’s not going to be something that they’re going to either discuss or be able to frame in a way that they don’t feel makes them look weak.”

    You’ll also want to look for a mentor who honors their commitments. When you’re approaching them with questions, it shouldn’t feel like they’re just fitting you in, Huntly says. They should convey a genuine sense of concern and caring. Huntly adds that a mentor’s communication style is also critical. They should be good listeners.

    “They’re not necessarily there to be a counselor or anything like that, but they can certainly acknowledge the humanity of the other person.”

    What to look for in a mentee
    If you’re an experienced physician looking to move into a mentor role, Huntly says there are some qualities you should look for in residents you might want to take under your wing. Mentees should have an open mind. Yes, the younger generation of doctors has its own unique set of challenges, but so did the previous generation. For an open-minded mentee, those challenges are learning opportunities.

    Also, if somebody is approaching you consistently for guidance, that too may be a sign that they can be mentored.

    “I see being able to ask for help in an appropriate way as a strength,” Huntly says. “Sometimes the people who get into trouble are the ones who never ask for help.”

    • Mentorship is essential for the health of the medical profession.
    • It helps newer doctors understand that their struggles aren’t unique and that they’re not alone.
    • The conversations that mentorship promotes help ease intergenerational conflict in medicine.
    • It’s a win-win: Experienced and new doctors learn from each other.
    • Mentees should look for mentors who are humble and self-aware.
    • Mentors should look for mentees who aren’t afraid to ask questions and have an open mind.

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