The Power of Mentorship

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Author: Alexandria Gregory, MD

AAEM/RSA Social Media & Publications Committee Chair
Originally published: Common Sense
July/August 2019 
I fell in love with emergency medicine before medical school. Truth be told, I had been hooked on EM since the first time I watched “ER” when I was ten years old. But as I entered college and became pre-med in earnest, I started to wonder if perhaps another specialty might be right for me. That was until I started working as a scribe in the ED. It was there that I fell in love with emergency medicine all over again, and this time for better reasons than I had seen on television. Above all, though, were the people.
While working as a scribe, I became close with several of the physicians I worked for, and we maintained our relationships when I entered medical school, despite me moving 1,200 miles away. In fact, I had built such a relationship with not only the physicians, but also nurses, techs, and other staff members, that I decided to travel back to work as a scribe while on school breaks. As I progressed in medical school, my mentors continued to help foster my passion for emergency medicine, in ways both concrete and intangible.
At the same time, I sought EM advisors at my medical school early in my first year so that I could set myself up for residency as best as possible. They were able to help me with the more concrete aspects of my application, such as research and leadership positions. However, because I had sought these relationships early, by the time I entered fourth year, they had also become my second EM family.
While I sought out some of my mentors intentionally, and others fell into place more naturally, all of my mentors share certain key qualities of being a good EM mentor, some of which might be less obvious than the qualities that are typically mentioned:
     They don’t always give you all the answers: This applies in a couple of ways. Academically, good mentors push mentees to think through decisions so that they are able to develop their own systems of practice. Additionally, they guide mentees in making choices about their careers without forcing their own ideals onto those decisions.
     Willingness to be your mentor: This one is a bit more obvious, but it’s still pretty important. Some of my mentors have invested countless hours into my personal and professional development, above and beyond what I could have ever expected. While not all mentors are able to devote such a large amount of time, a great mentor is willing to use the time they do have to truly focus on their mentee’s needs and development.
     They are knowledgeable: This one may also seem obvious, but it is especially relevant for emergency medicine because of the uniqueness of the specialty. In a practical sense, mentors should be aware of the situations their mentees are facing. For example, a mentor helping a medical student put together their application for residency should be knowledgeable about away rotations and SLOEs. Alternatively, if they are not as knowledgeable regarding specific questions, they are able to help a mentee find the resources they need.
     They have your back: A few of my mentors have told me this directly. It may be the most important quality, but it’s also impossible to directly seek out. Medical school and residency are difficult, so hearing this and knowing you have a support system is incredibly powerful. I suspect this is something students and residents in other specialties don’t hear as often, since it’s reflective of the way emergency medicine is practiced.
Looking back, it’s clear that my life would be very different if I had gotten any other job during my gap year, or even if I had worked in a different emergency department, because of the impact my mentors had on my development, both personal and professional. As I enter residency, I look forward to continuing my relationships with my current mentors, while also finding new mentors along the way. Most importantly, as I grow in my career, I hope to develop the same qualities so that I can be a mentor to others.