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A Guide to Medical School Mentorship

As a medical student, you have a lot of questions about your professional future as a physician. 

What medical field should you specialize in? Where should you try to match for residency? How can you improve the likelihood you’ll secure the career you want? 

Having a mentor is a great way to:

  • Learn about the various aspects of medical practice you may not be exposed to as a student
  • Identify and achieve the appropriate stepping stones to maximize your potential—and reach your professional goals 

Here are some tips for finding the right med school mentor for you. 

How can a mentor help me in medical school?

As you prepare for your professional life after university, your mentor may be able to help you with some or all of the following:

  • Discuss your career path and set goals. Together, you can identify areas that you will work on in your mentorship.
  • Provide formal and informal career advice. You can learn a lot from mentors about residency and job applications, career choices, and interviews. Mentors can also review your resume and provide feedback on how best to present yourself.
  • Share professional learning resources. If you share interest in a medical specialty, they can recommend helpful academic articles, books and other resources. 
  • Introduce you to new contacts. This is especially critical, as networking is very important in medicine (and in most careers). A mentor can connect you to professional colleagues for informational interviews, job shadowing opportunities, potential research projects and more. 

Where can I find a medical school mentor?

There is no one “right” way—or place—to find a mentor. 

Sometimes it just comes down to personal connections. If you know a physician that you think would be a good fit for your goals, reach out and discuss it with them. If they aren’t able to mentor you, they might know someone who can.

Another great resource is the student ombudsman office at your college. Many universities have formal and informal mentorship programs to help you in your search. 

Meanwhile, don’t ignore good old-fashioned networking. If you belong to specialty student interest groups or professional organizations, get to know the faculty sponsors and ask senior members if they know of any potential mentors or mentorship programs. 

What qualities should I look for in a medical school mentor?

In some part, choosing the ideal mentor comes down to your own personality and preferences. 

Ultimately, your mentor should be:

  • Professional. Your mentor should not only have impressive credentials, experience and wisdom in your chosen specialty, but who demonstrated a tangible enthusiasm for working and mentoring medical students. 
  • Committed to your relationship. When choosing a mentor, try to assess if they will have the time to mentor you effectively. That said, doctors can be notoriously hard to coordinate schedules with, so you must be somewhat flexible where timing is concerned. But laying out a tangible plan for consistent connections may be helpful.
  • Emotionally invested in your success. You want someone who genuinely cares about your growth and development. Look for a mentor who encourages and believes in you and may have demonstrated this potential with others she has mentored or coached in the past. 
  • An active listener. Mentors and mentees spend their relationship talking and listening to one another. For them to provide you maximum support, they must be able to truly understand, respond to, and remember your conversations. 
  • Confidential. During your relationship, you will be disclosing private information to your mentor, so trust is key. This is especially important if they are discussing you with potential contacts. 

What can I do to make sure my mentorship is a success?

Certainly, a mentor is there to help you reach your goals. But that doesn’t mean they do all the work. To maximize your relationship, here are three things you should do regularly:  

1. Ask strategic questions 

Your mentor can be a powerful sounding board and support system. However, you can’t expect them to proactively identify all the things you need to know. Before you meet or engage with them, do some prep work: decide which topics you’d like to discuss and put together a list of pointed questions to guide the conversation. Time is a commodity in short-supply for your mentor, so be sure to plan ahead for any one-on-one time you spend together. 

2. Keep an open mind

Your mentor may make recommendations that go beyond your usual comfort zone. For example,  if you’re an introvert who gets tongue-tied in large groups, your mentor might suggest that you attend a networking event by yourself. Even if the idea scares you, try it. That little nudge may have a powerful ripple effect in your professional (and even personal) development, and open the door to opportunities you might not have been aware of before.

3. Stay in touch for the long-term

As you advance in your training, you’re likely to come across new potential mentors and role models. There are no rules about having multiple mentors; however, you may naturally shift your time to new relationships as your professional agenda evolves. Regardless, always make an effort to stay in touch with the early mentors. You never know if and when that relationship might bear fruit in the future.

Should I be a medical school mentor?

Want to share your own wisdom with others? Good news: you don’t have to be an established physician to be a mentor. 

Some medical schools provide opportunities for fourth-year students to be mentors to students in their earlier years—and sometimes even to undergrad and high school students. It may be helpful to contact your student government for opportunities. It is also worth noting that future residency programs you may interview with could look favorably on involvement in residency programs. 

In other words, you can simultaneously benefit from being mentored while also personally making a difference in another future doctor’s life.

What’s next?

As a medical student, you have so much to gain from those in your field, no matter where they are in their career. Whether you’re looking for a mentor, wish to be a mentee, or want to enjoy the satisfaction of both roles, there are plenty of opportunities out there to help you achieve your professional goals.

Here’s to better financial solutions for MDs & DOs