By Hope Feldman and Rebecca Hoffman
A mentor is defined in the dictionary as “an experienced and trusted advisor.” This may be an accurate definition, but it is rather vague. It does not begin to address the many shapes and forms that a relationship between mentor and mentee can take. It comes as no surprise then that I was recently asked by someone on Twitter how one goes about finding a mentor. How can someone find a person to fill such an ill-defined role? I have been very fortunate that in my almost eight years of medical training, I have found several individuals who I would describe as my mentors.
Mentor A: This individual is a phenomenal surgeon. I admire her work ethic and her commitment to patient care. Her office door is always open if I have a question about work or life. She recognizes my potential and encourages me to always strive to be better.
Mentor B: This individual is a brilliant clinical researcher who has spent his career designing impactful studies. We spend several hours each weekend walking around the city discussing events of the week, research ideas, or life in general. He has taken the time to get to know my family. He has provided me with the tools that I need to thrive in an academic setting. Getting to learn from him has been a privilege.
Mentor C: She is a role model and a friend. She holds me to incredibly high standards and pushes me to do more than I knew I was capable of achieving. I enjoy visits with her children, and I know that if I ever needed anything, she is someone that I could call.
I have learned and grown and thrived because of these relationships. I hope that in my role as mentee, my eagerness to learn and willingness to be challenged has made my mentors feel that it was time well spent. In my new role as a resident member on the Association of Women Surgeons Communications Committee Twitter Sub-committee, it is my hope that we can foster discussions that allow people to learn from those who have been there before and perhaps meet new people along the way.
Mentee-ship: Maximizing a relationship
The mentor-mentee relationship can and should be as dynamic as any other relationship—and should be treated as a living, breathing, growing relationship that is allowed and expected to take many forms over time. Sometimes mentors stay mentors. Sometimes they become sponsors and sometimes the relationship fizzles with time. I think it is important for new trainees especially, to realize that as your needs and interests change—and they will—that you will have mentors that can change with you, but you will also have those who help you along the way and lead you to new mentors as you grow. The fun in being a mentor is fostering that growth, seeing the change, and supporting our mentees in their endeavors.
These relationships are hard to force. There shouldn’t be pressure to attach to a mentor until it feels right. How do you know it’s right? The relationship should feel somewhat natural; the mentor should be someone you respect and whose opinion you value and trust. Your mentor should respect your goals and desires, and understand you, your interests, and push you to succeed. They should be aware of opportunities that may benefit you and your career. My most influential mentor knew me better than I knew myself—I don’t know how she did it but it is the kind of mentor I strive to be.
Advice for incoming surgical trainees?
Spend a little time getting to know yourself in your new role. What excites you? Who is exciting? Who do you like to be around? Who might open your eyes to opportunities and experience, outside of the operating room?
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself or the relationship early on. It will come.
Be communicative with your mentor. Be open to trying new things. Be open with your mentor in order to get honest advice and support.
Enjoy the relationship! Be excited about this new chapter in your life and soak it all in!
Please join us on October 18, 2021 at 8-9pm Eastern Standard Time for an AWS Tweetchat about “What I wish I knew when…”! This chat will focus on providing a look at different steps in a surgeon’s career and words of wisdom from women who have done it before. The chat will be moderated by Dr. Tania Arora (@TaniaKArora), Dr. Becky Hoffman (@drbeckyhoffman), Dr. Callie Thompson (@callie_mt), Dr. Imani McElroy (@IEMcElroy) and Dr. Brooke Bredbeck (@BrookeBredbeck). The questions will be posted directly from the @WomenSurgeons twitter account and you can also find them by following the hashtag #AWSchat. If you haven’t participated in a tweetchat with us before, check out this tutorial written by Dr. Heather Yeo (@heatheryeomd) to know more. We will be discussing the following topics during our tweetchat: (1) choosing a residency, (2) finding a mentor, (3) starting a family, and (4) negotiating my first contract.
Questions to be discussed:
Q1. With residency interview season beginning, what are some things you wish you knew when you were considering programs and making your rank list?
Q2. Mentorship can play a very important role in developing as a surgeon. What are some things you wish you knew about mentorship or being a mentee when you began residency?
Q3. “How does she do it all?” and “Work life balance” are expressions used to describe commitment to people/things outside of work. What does this look like in your life? If you have children, what are some things you wish you knew when starting a family?
Q4. For the attendings: what are some things you wish you knew when choosing your first job or negotiating a contract? For residents: What factors will be important to you when deciding on a fellowship program or job?
Q5. What are some things you wish you knew when you chose surgery? What are your favorite parts of this career and what are things you had not expected as a medical student?
Hope Feldman, MD, is currently completing her second of two research years as a Thoracic Surgery Research Fellow with the Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery at MD Anderson Cancer Center where she is fortunate to have found several wonderful mentors. She is also a general surgery resident at Geisinger. Dr. Feldman is endlessly grateful for the guidance and support she received at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and that she continues to receive through the Geisinger general surgery residency program. You will have the opportunity to meet some of Dr. Feldman’s mentors on Monday, October 18th at the #AWSchat. She can be found on Twitter @HopeFeldmanMD.
Rebecca Hoffman, MD, is an Assistant Professor of Surgery at the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine, a Colon and Rectal surgeon at Geisinger Medical Center, and the Vice Chair of Education and Research for the Geisinger Surgery Institute. She has had the privilege of having the most amazing mentors–all the way from her first adult job at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, to her medical school, residency and fellowship training at the University of Pennsylvania and Washington University in St. Louis, and to her current amazing colleagues and friends. Mentorship is what keeps her motivated and excited to come to work each day! Dr. Hoffman can be found on Twitter @drbeckyhoffman.
Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.