Finding a Mentor is the Key to becoming an Elite Resident

Simple steps to becoming elite

Yesterday was matchday 2018 and 33,167 new medical grads will take the first steps toward a fulfilling medical career.   This journey can be very rewarding but also is filled with landmines and obstacle which if not planned for can devastate their career and financial wellbeing.   Today in medicine it is not enough to know the latest techniques or research in the various fields, medical students must also be armed with defensive skills in negotiation, time management, medical law, ethics, government regulations and most importantly finance.   Gone are the days when they join a guild, treat patients, make money, work for 30 years and retire.   Many physicians don’t even make to 65 due to illness, legal troubles, psychological issues, or a variety of other life events that derail them.   Not to sound pessimistic but without a good game plan the happiest day of your career may wind up being Matchday!   So the question is, how do you develop a good offensive and defensive plan in your medical training?  Find a Mentor!!!

Find a mentor or career coach

Every college and medical school assign mentors to their students.   This process rarely takes into consideration anything other than the type of career or specialty.  These mentors usually volunteer for the position but some are mandated by their institution.   Some of them turn out to be amazing but unfortunately, they can equally wind up as duds.   I feel strongly about this and do not mean to offend current or would be mentors but often the advise they give is based on their own personal experiences which will most likely not fit your unique set of circumstances.  Also, most medical mentors have no formal training in mentorship or coaching.  Although they have taken the same steps through their medical career this by no means gives them any expertise to give advice and should be taken with a grain of salt.   Throughout my career, I have had several mentors.  They all have been very intelligent and sage but all but one knew how to direct someone with my unique experiences and background to ensure my success.

How to find a mentor

Once you have an assigned mentor, meet with them like you would a job interview.   Be prepared and have a list of questions to determine if you are a good match.   If it goes well then set up expectations for the relationship that are realistic for both of you.  Meeting once a year will not cut it.   Part of the mentor-mentee relationship is that you will set goals, measure progress and develop a relationship that should last for years.   I can’t emphasize enough how important this relationship will become.   There are so many events that can occur throughout your training which need the attention and advice of someone in the system who understands how things work.

Assigned or Unassigned

If you do not feel the assigned relationship will work then it is time to start looking for a new one.   Most physicians are too busy to take on mentees but every medical school and hospital medical staff will have a list of doctors who are willing to participate.   Once you have the list take the time and call each person who you feel will be a good fit based on their background.   Narrow the search looking for characteristics that will help you in your career like age, sex, specialty, experience and other training like MBAs or MPHs.   Once you narrow it down and call them to ask to be mentored.   If the phone interview goes well, ask to meet in person and determine if they have the availability you need for a consistent relationship.    I recommend frequent meetings at first, say once a month and then less frequent as you progress or once a quarter.

Having trouble finding a Mentor

You might begin thinking this is way more trouble than it is worth and I assure you it will be one of the best investments in your life!   Let’s say the lists didn’t work and your assigned mentor is a callous, unfriendly Butt-head, time to try something else.   During the first few weeks or months of your training start looking for a mentor informally around the hospital/clinic.   Look for a person with characteristics you can identify with and when you find a potential candidate throw some softballs at them.  Ask about their experience as a resident, career challenges, and interests outside of medicine.  Chances are they will open up immediately since the one thing everyone loves more than anything else is themselves!

Once you feel you have found the one either ask them if they would be willing to become a mentor or will to help you find a mentor.   The second question is key since most physicians have very busy lives it is easy to say no to such a request but since you already trust them and their judgment you place them on the psychological hook of complying with the much less demanding task.   The more people you approach like this the greater the odds you will be able to find what you are looking for.   Heck, the MATCH is based on this concept of statistics known as the stable-marriage problem where the person asking will always have an advantage over the person getting asked.   In other words, you have a much higher chance of getting what you want if you seek out and ask versus getting assigned a mentor.

If all else fails, hire a career coach

Ok, you are broke and have student loans in the six-figure range.   Finding enough money to go out to eat a nice dinner can be challenging so why on Earth would you spend outrageous money on a coach.  The best answer came during a dinner with one of my neighbors.  He has done well in his career and has promotion after promotion in banking and now is one of the senior vice presidents.   The topic of coaching came out with respects to public employees in California.   According to the highest paid public official are coaches.  Now, these coaches are paid for their service to produce the best collegiate sports teams in football and basketball but their salaries are mind-blowing and in the seven-figure range.   Yet they are not making the touchdowns or 3-pointers themselves yet they command the highest salary in the entire collegiate system, even more than the president of the university.   The question then is, WHY?  The answer is quite obvious, good coaches produce good results.   My neighbor agreed and surprised me when he told me the President of his company not only had a coach but that his coach was the secret of his success!   So if your goal was to be the best version of your self, wouldn’t you like to be trained by the best to become Elite?

Good Luck and Congrats to #match2018 !!!


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