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Who Makes a Great Mentor in Healthcare – a Friend, a Supervisor, a Peer?

After a busy day on the wards, what better way to spend a Wednesday evening than munching away on pizza, chatting with other medical students and partaking in an engaging workshop run by Dr Johann Malawana. Within the trendy, bare bricked office of Medics.Academy, the Fellows meet monthly to discuss topics outside the scope of medicine.

Today, I’d like to share what I learned from the workshop we ran on mentorship.

What is a mentor?

The question was posed to the room. We found ourselves in general agreement that we imagine a mentor to be someone senior, someone within your chosen career path, and someone with whom you feel comfortable enough to periodically ask for career advice, whenever you have something to ask, that is. I did not suspect at the time, that my preconceived idea of the meaning of a mentor was about to be completely torn apart!

I learned that indeed, a mentor is someone with whom you can seek advice and have a semi-professional relationship with. However, seniority is not a requirement; mentors may be much junior to your position or may be on the same level. The key thing is not their seniority, but choosing a person whose opinion you trust, and someone who you admire.

In addition, we were all slightly baffled to learn that a mentor does not have to be someone within your chosen career path, nor even within the field of medicine at all! We can undoubtedly learn as much from someone in a completely different vocation – for example the world of fashion, or law – as we can from other medics.

Moreover, it may be more useful to gain a fresh and different perspective on issues, from a professional outside the medical world.Another crucial concept of mentorship which the workshop revealed, is it can and should be structured. In contrast to our initial beliefs, a mentor should not simply be someone contacted just when you have something specific to ask. Advice and discussion with a mentor, when conducted in structured way, with pre-arranged meetings, taking place around regularly, can be valuable. A suggested structure was meeting every 4-6 months for 45-60 minutes over coffee, for example.

One of the fellows wisely remarked that a mentor is “somewhere between a teacher and a friend”. The consensus was that, though a mentor should not be purely a teacher, nor a friend, it seemed to make sense that the relationship lies someplace in the middle.

What’s the point of a mentor?

A mentor’s role is not limited to career advice, but all areas of personal and professional development. For example, if you are having issues with a work colleague, self-confidence at work, or struggling to juggle your professional life with your personal life. In essence, a mentor is “a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.”

I am going to be completely honest here. My initial reaction was, well if I’m not seeking career guidance, can’t I just go for coffee with a friend and ask them for advice? I learnt that the relationship you have with a mentor is subtly different from a friend in certain important ways.

While friends are an invaluable and precious source of advice, and while it is always good to speak to friends about personal issues, you know them intimately; this may have an impact upon how you perceive and process their advice. Likewise, it may bias their advice towards you. Furthermore, meetings with your mentor are structured in nature and have a ‘semi-professional’ feel, focusing upon aspects which relate to work or personal development.

How do I find a mentor?

This is all sounding great, but how do I go about finding a mentor? was going through my (and probably everyone else’s) head at this point of the talk. Nevertheless, after some thought and with some help, we each identified a potential mentor from outside of the medical world. The idea of asking someone to be my mentor seemed alien to me, so I asked for advice on how to go about doing this.

“Be honest!” was the answer – and it suddenly made perfect sense to do just this – to simply tell them that I have been told to find a mentor, that I valued their opinion and that I would like to meet with them once every 4-6 months for a set period of time, over some coffee if that was okay with them – and if they are too busy then I won’t be offended. The other part of this, was that not every mentoring experience works perfectly, so don’t be put off if it doesn’t prove to be perfect the first time. Keep an open mind and keep seeking mentorship.

As of writing this, I have so far arranged a phone call with the person who I identified to ask to be my mentor. I admit, I feel rather apprehensive to – out of the blue – ask this lady who is involved in public speaking to be my mentor. Nevertheless, mentorship makes sense to me and I am entirely convinced that it will be beneficial to my personal development.

The Fellowship Programme

Several of us at the workshop (including myself) have recently joined the Fellowship Programme at Medics.Academy. This is an exciting programme which gives medical students the opportunity to work on projects with Medics.Academy and attend regular workshops which help to develop a range professional and leadership attributes.

I have so far found these workshops to be incredibly eye-opening, changing my perspective on a range of topics, and enabling a discussion on aspects of professional life as well as identification of areas of self-development – an opportunity which rarely presents itself through medical school.The application process for the Fellowship Programme was an enjoyable, lively and interactive experience, offering a taste of what tasks at Medics.Academy may entail. It involved writing a script for an educational video on a range of topics – I chose abdominal pain, as revision of this broad area would be useful for me. It also involved filming a short video of yourself delivering this script, as well as talking about your favourite holiday!

I am excited to get started on my project and continue to attend more invaluable workshops. Thank you to Dr Johann Malawana, for a thought-provoking evening.

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