Paying it Forward

Most of us have a teacher, mentor, or friend who contributed significantly to our current level of success. I remember my undergraduate pre-med mentor; my older sister; and several attendings in residency with fondness as I reflect on the impact that they had on my career path.
I have always enjoyed teaching—if I did not go to medical school, I think I would have obtained an education degree. I taught elementary summer school students during my summer breaks in high school, and tutored when I was an undergraduate student. I had my first clinical students in residency. During this period, I had a high schooler, as well as several medical students associated with our residency program, shadow me with my clinic patients. They kept me on my toes by asking varied questions, and made me think back to physiology and other basic sciences as I explained the “why” behind my treatment plans. Now, I don’t know about my other attendings, but the further I get from medical school, the more basic science I forget! So it helps to have to think back to those lessons while teaching.

I have had several medical and nurse practitioner students rotate in my clinic with me during my first year of practice as a family physician. Being a young doctor, I initially was hesitant to take on the teaching role, without the back up of my residency attendings. However, I feel even more strongly now than ever that it is important for me to continue teaching, despite not being in an academic institution. Many times, as my nurse practitioner students make cold calls soliciting other attendings for upcoming rotations, often getting refusals, I wonder whether the physicians realize that they are missing out on an opportunity to pay forward the mentoring and teaching experiences that they themselves benefited from.

Teaching, of course, is not for everyone. But I encourage you to consider giving back in this manner if you are not already doing or planning to do so. If you are an undergraduate, consider guiding a high schooler who is considering your major. If you are in medical school, you may want to assist your campus pre-med club periodically. As a busy resident, you may still find time to mentor a medical student in your medical school, or on a website like DiverseMedicine. And as a physician, dentist, or other health practitioner, you will find dozens of opportunities to give back through mentoring or teaching. Many thanks to those of you who are joyfully giving back to those following in our footsteps. And it is my hope that my fellow DiverseMedicine members who do not currently teach or mentor will strongly consider whether this is an area to explore.