How to find a mentor and what I've learnt from my mentors
Updated: Jun 30, 2020
Mentorship is often viewed as a one-way transaction in which a mentor helps their mentee improve personally and/or professionally, when in fact it should be a two-way one. You can also offer something to your mentor. Mentors can develop leadership skills and gain a personal sense of satisfaction from knowing that they've helped you. You can expand their knowledge and skills whilst gaining their valuable advice since they are more experienced. Both of you are also able to build and expand your professional networks.
In medical school, a mentor can help you to navigate the specialty that you may be interested in and map out your future prospects. Some would suggest that you should not go out and seek a mentor but instead, they will find you. This is partly true! But in order to rub shoulders with like-minded individuals or people in the positions that you hope to be in, you must put yourself out there and seek opportunities to network. Alternatively, I see some older students in my university as my 'mentors' (some do not even necessarily study Medicine and may not even realise that I see them as such)! A mentor needs to be someone that inspires you and this does not always have to be a doctor at Consultant level.
LinkedIn is a great place to start when building up your presence in the medical professional community and is an alternative to real-life networking (which is not always possible for busy doctors and also, during the current pandemic). For me, LinkedIn has acted as a platform to approach doctors (respectfully) who are working in the specialties that I am considering and have values that align with my own. I will be doing a blog post on LinkedIn do's and don'ts soon, but LinkedIn is not the only place I have met people. Attending society conferences, specialty talks, networking events and clinical placements are other ways that you may meet a doctor that you admire and want to learn more from.
Once you have someone in mind who you think you’d benefit from being mentored by, it is then your job to go about asking them. This is what you should consider:
1. Clarify what you need and be specific
Before you seek a mentor, you must determine what kind of support you need. Is it to gain more knowledge about a specialty? Is it because you need help getting published? Is it because you want to be able to write a book as they did?
Most of the time, medical students would ideally like formal, long-term guidance, especially to learn about a specific specialty. Therefore, you may reach out to them to ask if you can shadow them, attend their clinic on extra days or if you can keep in contact with them to ask further questions. As your relationship progresses, you may need support with one-time needs such as inviting them to speak at a national conference or having them read over your CV for an internship or job that you are going for. Making sure you outline this from the start can help them support you better.
2. Choose wisely Choosing a mentor is important and will also determine how likely they are to agree to be your mentor. You must like, respect and trust your mentor. Just as their accomplishments may matter, so do their personal attributes. Find a mentor whom you can relate to and who shares your goals and understands your priorities. When asking someone to be my mentor, I choose someone that I can see myself becoming. It is also important that you make sure you are up to the challenge to be the person you want to be.
3. Be keen Being enthusiastic, energetic, organised and focused makes your mentor’s life a lot easier and they are more likely to give you their time and effort. It is important to come to them with high-quality work on time (e.g. if you would like them to give you feedback on a manuscript you are hoping to publish) and take feedback maturely and gracefully.
4. Be grateful It is important to recognise that nobody is being paid for the time they are dedicating to be your mentor. This is a relationship that both parties entered with an assumption that mutual respect will be given and received. It is important to always express your thanks for whatever your mentor helps you with, especially if it brings you success!
So, what have I learned from my mentors?
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.
It is important to give everything you do your best effort, no matter how small the assignment may be. You never know what rewards you may reap. If you fail to prepare and do not put in the effort, do not expect to get far. A mentor cannot miraculously change this for you.
Do things that you care about.
Make sure that you take part in things that interest you and that you are passionate about as these will ultimately be your greatest successes. It is no point jumping through hoops and committing to projects, volunteering and/or jobs for an extra line on your CV. Make sure you care about what you’re doing and make sure you do it well!
If you need help, ASK.
It is worse to be content in not knowing something and quietly hoping nobody will call on you about it. If ever in doubt, ASK. And this is especially important in a medical career. You will never know everything, and mistakes are inevitable but are less likely to happen if you ask for help when you need it.
Know what you stand for and what you stand against.
When you realise what these are, your intentions will be clear, and you will be able to live a life based on your core values.
Be irreplaceable in a field.
Think innovatively, bring something new to the environment within which you’re working and make sure you’re MISSED when you’re not around. You need to find your niche and be exceptional at it. Take time to explore all avenues of Medicine and take advantage of a range of opportunities available to be able to discover your true passion.
I had to reflect on my mentorship experiences to write this piece and it really helped me to realise how much I have learned from those around me. I hope this helps you find a mentor or reflect on one you currently have.
I am a mentor for prospective medical students hoping to successfully gain a place at medical school and reach their full potential. If you are a student who is interested, you are welcome to find out more here.