Episode 95: Learn what to look for in a mentor and how they can help you accomplish your goals.


Download transcript: Choosing a Mentor

 Melinials Want Mentorship in Medicine

In today’s episode, I’m going to be talking about how Millenials want even more mentorship, at least supposedly, than their predecessors. Specifically, I’m looking at an article from the American Psychiatric Association. Their education director, Dr. Hales, put an article, and she was interviewed in a title called “Mentoring Residents: Often a Lesson in Chemistry.”


What she’s talking about, primarily, is interpersonal chemistry between mentors. The article states that residency is often about evaluation. It doesn’t matter which activity you’re involved in with residency. It’s not so much about evaluating whether or not the resident is good or bad necessarily, but as a function of professional development, to mirror feedback to the resident to let them know what they’re doing effectively and what they need to work on. At least, that’s the most hopeful, positive spin you can put on it. As you may have heard in prior episodes, constructive criticism on clinical rotations isn’t necessarily painless. In fact, sometimes you have to look for the positive action items after someone reams you and maybe yells at you for a mistake. You have to put a positive spin on that intentionally.

So she makes a statement here that I don’t think is based on fact, and I would like to bring under closer scrutiny, as I would encourage you to do any time you hear something that doesn’t jibe with your personal experience, or your knowledge, or just doesn’t seem to be quite right. Don’t necessarily dismiss it, but investigate it, and examine it, and become a little scientists related to things about your medical career, not just medicine itself. For example, she says, “The Millenials, these are individuals coming of age in the new century, want more structure and guidance than the earlier Baby Boomers did.” I would like to see a study that asked Baby Boomers in medical education how much mentorship they wanted. Hmmm. How can you make a statement like that? I don’t know. You don’t have evidence. So I kind of dismiss that. But I do generally enjoy and agree with the topics otherwise presented in this article. For example, this idea about needing interpersonal chemistry.

Definition of Mentorship

So let me back up a step and just kind of describe in my own words what a mentorship relationship is like when you’re a resident working with some faculty. In many programs that you would get into, there are faculty that are assigned to supervise you in different capacities. Often you can choose either a formal mentor, if they have a program like that, or maybe it’s called career supervision, or something. Hopefully, your program will cut out a little bit of time, as you progress through the program, to meet one on one with a faculty member for guiding you and answering your questions about career decisions, as you do figure out along the way what kind of things you’re interested in doing in your medical career. They can give you their tips and guidance. That’s a formal relationship. It’s not necessarily going to be someone you would go have a beer with, or whatever. Also, their advice can be tainted with recruitment. Sometimes it’s a criticism of career advice, if they’re really trying to keep you at the program, they might distract or change the subject to that often, and you might not feel comfortable. I would say that this is the time and place to be assertive. If you don’t want to go to that program, or stay there, you’re going to move away, let them know that if they’re trying to be pushy with you. Maybe they’ll back off.

On the other hand, I think it’s generally a good practice to let your residency program think that there’s a possibility that you might stay there, particularly if you’ve ever had a difficult time in your residency, or your training, or your scores aren’t all that hot. If you could ever think you need an insurance policy for your reputation, and that you might someday have remediation or you don’t get along with some faculty members, or it’s a malignant program, that goes without saying, actually let them think that you like it there. Because I don’t care what kind of criticisms they have about you while you were in the program, if you make it through the program and you start getting ready to graduate, they’re going to want to keep you because of the shortages, and because, well, just for a lot of stupid reasons if you ask me. They keep people that cause problems all the time, and hire people that are difficult in some places. So once you get your big bad license and your residency training, you can just about get away with murder. I don’t mean literally, but I mean interpersonally. You don’t have to be very nice or get along with very many people.

Need a Pleasing Personality

It’s very hard to get hired as a physician, because the shortages are so high. Of course, I value a pleasing personality as one of the top 17 principles of success that Napoleon Hill talks about. So I’m not suggesting you be that way. I’m just suggesting that if you have a mentorship relationship where they bring up the possibility of recruiting you to stay there when you graduate, if it’s at all possible for you to let them think that might happen, let them think that might happen. I’ve known many residents get far along in their training, and sometimes wait to the last month of their residency before they would announce publicly where they were really going to go. So people will kind of bend over backwards and treat you nice. In some cases, when people decide they don’t want to stay in the program, in the residency when they graduate, or they want to not go into a fellowship they had previously experienced an interest in, suddenly people can withdraw and not be as interested in either helping them or assisting them. It’s amazing to me how fast the personality and reputation can shift. It’s almost a game.

You need to associate with good people that are reputable and well liked, and be concerned about your personal and professional development. When all that is going on on your end, finding a mentor will be easy. So if you have a faculty member that you like, that you have a relationship with, it doesn’t have to be in your own department. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in your own specialty. I have a mentor that’s a PhD in research, and she’s going to help me a lot as I carve out some research time. Often, you can get some mentoring advice from people in different systems. If you rotate through the VA, or have contact with any kind of government agency or any other health care delivery model that’s out there. Even just friends and family, of course, they often can’t keep their mouth shut with advice. But I’d like to have you understand that a mentor is more than just an academic supervisor. It’s more than a friend of the family that’s a doctor that’s giving unsolicited advice. A mentor is a friend at heart. It’s someone you admire and look up to. Sometimes that can be hard to find in medicine. Yeah, I’ll say it. It can be. If you’re in a place there is not a lot of them, you need to cherish the few that there are and try to cultivate that.

Self-Directed Learning in Mentorship

Write down your questions as you progress through your residency, when you’re reading topics. You need to be an outspoken person to make sure you’re clear on certain medical information as you progress. If you are seen as an outgoing person that reaches out for career advice, make sure they’re getting their clinical questions answered and following up, and when the literature is not clear or they have some question, ask, ask, ask. You’re constantly demonstrating that you are going, not necessarily above and beyond, but compared to some of your peers, you’re going to be excelling, because some of them don’t do that kind of follow up and reading. They don’t have that discipline. They get lazy. As soon as they’re accepted to residency, it’s crazy how some people will just change from that position of almost begging for medical education as a medical student, to a position of a lazy, arrogant resident. It’s surprising what people can get away with. Keep your eyes open, though, because sometimes they’re getting disciplined and chastised in the residency training committee meetings, of which I’ve been a part, and am currently a member of. A lot of disciplinary type stuff and professional development remediation happens at the back end that you will never hear about, at least at a good program that doesn’t have leaks.

If you are professionally developing, having good peer relationships, are seen as a good worker that asks questions and reaches out for help and does the required reading, and even goes above and beyond, and demonstrates … Notice I keep saying that. They will not know what you’re doing if you don’t find a reason to bring it up. Say, “I was reading this and this, and these 5 articles said this and that, and it’s a little confusing because the FDA said this. What do you do in clinical practice?” When they see that you do that on some kind of regular basis, and I don’t mean all the time where it looks like you’re a gunner, or you’re trying to overdo it or impress people. But that type of groundwork reputation will allow a mentor relationship to evolve to the next level.

It’s sort of like the hierarchy of needs, where you have survival and food instincts at the low end of that. You can Google that image and take a look at it. You know, society issues at the top. And then more lofty and artful, goal-directed, life fulfillment stuff is at the top of that hierarchy. If you don’t have the lower stuff going on, you are not going to be able to worry about your big ambition and your legacy in life if you can’t eat, or if you’re freezing this cold winter, or something like that. The same is true with your medical career. If you’re not doing well on the in-service exam, you’re late to your shifts, you don’t have a good relationship with a handful of the residents in your program, you’re behind on the readings, you never ask clinical questions, and you in your heart of hearts actually know that most of the time you don’t even go read on your own clinical questions, then you’re kind of a bad resident. Okay? I’m just going to call you out.

At that point, if you have a mentor, in the back of their mind, they would love to be able to push you along that motivational scale toward doing a lot of these other things. If you’re trying to get career advice from a mentor, and you’re not taking care of business, then their number one priority is to get you taking care of business to be a responsible resident in fulfilling all of your obligations. Right? So they can’t get into the loftier stuff about how to craft a career with multiple things tickled, such as research time, teaching time, academics, travel, whatever you want to mix in your clinical schedule when it’s all said and done. And who says it has to stay one particular way.

So I hope that’s been good food for thought for you today. I think mentoring is good. I think a lot of it happens informally. You don’t have to have an official mentor program existing in order to take advantage of this. But try to foster some relationships with attendings. In some residency programs, you don’t get a lot of face time with attendings. That’s something to find out about as you travel and you’re interviewing at different programs to see the level of face time. Mentorship can happen automatically often times in a place where there’s a lot of face time built in. I literally have a couple of attendings in my program that I would love to meet with every day, just because of their personalities, their natures, the way they think. Again, what comes across as a pleasing personality is not just going the extra mile. It’s not just persistence in trying to help your fellow. But it’s also what you are thinking in the presence of the other person. Do you have a positive attitude? Are you thinking about solutions and positive things? Are you believing positive things about others? Do you think about positive things consciously in their presence? That is going to have intangible rewards that are going to put you in good position. If you can do those kind of things with attendings, they’re going to rub off on you.

The Mastermind Principle

One of the most profound things that I heard from Napoleon Hill, out of all his million pieces of sage advice, was the idea when he was describing in his program, The Science of Personal Achievement, that one of the things that you get out of a mastermind group is not just the experience and the wisdom and knowledge of the people in the group, and all of that together forming like a third mind, a master mind is the collective experience and wisdom of the group. But it is the spiritual powers. The spiritual powers you can kind of borrow. So when you’re lacking confidence, you can gain some confidence. By spiritual, I don’t mean going to the top of a mountain and meditating with burning incense. I mean intangibles. Right? Physical being things you can touch, that’s material, and spiritual being things you can’t touch. I’m not really referring to theology here, obviously. I’m just referring to spiritual powers, attitudes, tacit things. They can be really taught. You will begin to absorb those.

My Inspiration

Last story I’ll leave you with. One of my first motivators ever, was my brother, my little brother. We grew up and had some rough times. Okay? And out of the blue, he’s like 19 or 18. He had had some problems as well at that time. He’s doing awesome now. He said, “I want to be a police officer,” out of the blue, like he was doing security. He had the equivalent of a black belt in martial arts. He was doing security at a club. All of a sudden, he just wanted this big, important career. And if you had seen him at the time, he looked and had his hair cut like a skater for a long time. He just didn’t fit the part. He explained to me what he did later, because I was joining the army, and I wasn’t around to witness it. But somewhere, he got the idea that if he wanted to become a police officer, he needed to surround himself with police officers, and he would begin to act like them after a while.

And that’s exactly what he did. He didn’t know about Napoleon Hill, but he planted himself right in the middle of it, security jobs, volunteer stuff, peace officer school. His uncle had to help him buy some dress-up clothes to attend an academy. I mean, he didn’t have anything. When I first heard it, it sounded kind of off the wall. But immediately I noticed his seriousness, and I respected my brother, so I never picked on him about it. But at that point when I first heard it, it was something that was kind of laughable. He had no background. In fact, he had been hanging around with the wrong crowd at times. Of course, I had too. We knew the same friends, and I kind of laughed, until I saw he was serious.

Spiritual Perspectives from Mentors

That’s the same thing we’re doing in the mastermind community, or that you’re doing with a mentor. If you see a mentor that’s a faculty member, or even somebody else on a different kind of track, like a research physician, that has some skills and abilities that you want, you need to invent a way to get around them. I went to set up an elective in the fourth year because I’m interested in spending time with a psychiatrist that works in the grant funded nonprofit world. Grand funded, okay? And so I came across a contact with some of my research on publishing and writing her up, and have located a retired woman general in psychiatry. So she’s like a hero on multiple fronts. Being a woman general is one thing, and being a general that’s a psychiatrist was like the first time ever. She runs a nonprofit that’s into social entrepreneurship, right up my alley, because that’s really what the mastermind community is.

And so I want to go spend a couple of weeks with her up in the Northeast. Why? I’m kind of honestly inventing a reason to be around her. I want her spiritual power. I want her mindset. I want to see and experience for myself how she doesn’t see barriers. Right? Barriers only are self-imposed limitations. God gave us control over our mind. The one that’s going to be truly successful will fully possess their own mind, and therefore have success consciousness, not a failure consciousness. Doesn’t see the barriers, but sees the opportunities of how nice it’s going to be when you overcome that challenge, and how you’re going to be able to use whatever experience that you’re going through that’s tough to help other people, just like I did with the Healers Art Program, when I took that elective in medical school, and my mood improved.

Okay? That’s enough for today. This has been the Medical School podcast. Go find a mentor.


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