Should You Look For A Mentor? Where Do You Start?

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A mentor is not a formal title or position and requires no formal qualification. A mentor is essentially a wise, trusted and reliable counsellor or teacher who you can watch and learn from. Whether directly or indirectly, mentorship plays a significant role in the advancement of society in general and particularly in the field of medicine where budding doctors gain direction and crucial insight from this special mentor-mentee relationship.

Laura assisting her mentor in the obstetrics and gynaecology department in Tanzania If you are planning on applying to medical school and eventually becoming a physician, it is good to have a mentor you can trust and confide in. Where do you look for a mentor? No place in particular. You can ask practicing physicians if you could shadow them and see how they practice their profession. You can learn from other successful senior premeds, teachers and other faculty members that you admire and respect. What you should know is that mentorship is not necessary formal or informal. The beauty of it is that it can happen just anywhere and with anybody.

For a mentorship to be successful, the most important quality that you as a mentee should possess is ‘teachability’. You should recognise that your mentor is more knowledgeable than you and that there is a lot you can learn from that person. Most importantly you should be open to learning and easy to teach. You can learn a lot when you combine a humble attitude with keen observation of your mentor.

Where to look for a mentor

So where do you start your search for mentors? Unfortunately, not everyone gets the same opportunity. Sometimes a great mentor may just walk into your life. Fortunately, if that does not happen, you can walk into theirs.

Here are a few very useful tips on finding mentors and learning from them:

Take the initiative: Most potential mentors, whether they are physicians, graduating seniors or medical students, are busy so you have to take the initiative and make the first step. There are several ways you can do this – you can send them an email or talk to them in person or you could ask to be referred to them. When they see that you are serious you are about learning from them, they might consider your request and let you be a part of their busy lives. Taking this kind of initiative also says a lot about how much you really care about becoming a good doctor. A wise and compassionate doctor would see this passion and give you careful consideration.

Be Persistent – Don’t give up easily: Respected professionals receive numerous mentorship requests regularly and they may turn you down at first but if this is someone you really want to learn from, be persistent. Give them good reasons why you want him or her to be your mentor. It would be hard to refuse such an earnest request unless the person really cannot fit you into their schedule. 

Don’t wait to learn formally: If your mentor is a super-busy person, they will not have the time to give you formal instruction. That’s okay. You don’t need it. All you really need to do to get the most out of your mentorship is to watch, learn and observe and absorb. That itself will tell you a lot about what you should and should not do. It gives you a benchmark for the standards that you can set for yourself as a practicing doctor. 

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