Will you be my mentor? That is actually a taboo question in my opinion and shared by Sheryl Sandberg COO of Facebook. In her book, Lean In, she explains that this question is vague and not helpful for you or constructive enough for your hopeful mentor. As we kick off the DiverseMedicine mentoring season, this blog will help you be the best mentee you can be.
In college and medical school, it helps to get out there and find advice. Using twitter and Facebook can only go so far. For students who are underrepresented, great places to start include DiverseMedicine, Student National Medical Association conferences, and Minority Association of Pre-health conferences. There are also summer programs such as the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program offered at many universities including Yale University , Duke University, and Case Western Reserve University. This program provides a stipend and teaches courses that are important for medical school preparation. Whether you are at a weekend conference or summer length program, it helps to start with asking questions. At a conference, they generally have a medical school or residency fair. At these fairs, you can stop by tables of programs you may be interested in applying. Ask about certain aspects of their program and for advice. If you strike up a conversation at a fair or in a summer program, it is ok to ask for their card or email so you can stay in touch. It is very important to find more than one mentor as “it takes a village to raise a child”. Meeting someone and sending that first email may be the beginning of a mentee/mentor relationship.
When developing your mentee/mentor relationship, I would not email someone and say, “Do you have any advice?” It is likely that every doctor who you admire and would like to emulate will be very busy. It is essential to ask direct questions, for example: “What activities should I join to improve my CV?” Each question should be based on the strength of each particular mentor. I would find a medical student who has done well on the MCAT and recently started medical school to ask, “How did you study for the MCAT? When is a good time to take the test?” You can find a medical student through DiverseMedicine, a local chapter of the Student National Medical Association, or from someone who just graduated from your college. Your questions about the MCAT, volunteering, leadership roles on campus, applications, how to study, and research should be directed towards medical students. If you have questions about building your CV, consider asking your premed advisor, faculty on admission committees, or medical residents. Ultimately, what you are looking to do is build a family of mentors, who will guide you along your medical journey.
After you have established the relationship, should you wish to continue it, give your mentor occasional updates. Let your mentors know about your progress. It helps to summarize your last conversation, and then discuss what you have accomplished. Then, you can ask about the next steps. If you have questions, that’s great, continue to ask. If you don’t, then do not feel obligated to make questions up. It would be nice however, to let your mentor know about your accomplishments and acceptances (this provides them with gratification and satisfaction).
I cannot stress enough the importance of taking your own initiative. This is your career and you are the only one who will make it happen. The job of the mentor is to answer questions, provide some overall advice/guidance, and celebrate your success. It is not their job to hold your hand and make sure you are on top of things. You have to advocate for yourself. Your mentors and peers will add great substance, but your tenacity will be the ultimate determinant of your success. Finally, it helps to be appreciative. Send a nice thank you card to your mentors after your admission to medical school. They may be your colleagues one day.