Mentorship is a Two-Way Street

01 Feb 2018
By Andrea Merrill

I almost cancelled. It had taken us about 4 months to set up this meeting, but it had been a long week of operating and I was tired; I just wanted to go home, read for my cases, and go to bed.

I had signed up to be a mentor through the Harvard Medical School medical student chapter of AWS with initial excitement almost 10 months ago. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed that I was matched with a dental student. I didn’t think I’d have anything in common with her and I wasn’t sure how I could be a good mentor to her with limited knowledge of dental school and future careers in that field.

We met at a hip new restaurant near Fenway Park. I was immediately struck by Ann’s (name changed) enthusiasm and energy. She was fascinating! Not only was she earning her DMD and MD to become an oral surgeon, but she was also planning to earn her MBA with the goal of helping create new technologies that could be used in global surgery efforts in pediatric craniofacial surgery. I was envious and inspired by her ambition!

I was surprised to learn that there were very few females in the world of oral surgery and she didn’t feel like she had many female residents or attendings to look up to. She was, therefore, very excited to meet me, someone who has (almost) made it through general surgery residency at a rigorous program while managing to maintain a semblance of a life outside of medicine. She related to me that some family and friends along the way have discouraged her from pursuing her lofty goals, telling her that she was trying to do too much. I was disappointed to hear this all-too-common narrative in such a clearly driven and determined student. I encouraged her in her efforts and was able to connect her to my former senior resident with similar interests.

It was hard to end the night without feeling happy and rejuvenated. Despite my initial fears, I felt I had made a difference in this young woman’s life, and she had made a difference in mine too. In this era of medicine where burnout and depression have been thrust into the forefront, it can be hard sometimes to remember why we went into this career. We become tired with the daily tasks of charting, paperwork, and imposed guidelines and sometimes lose sight of that initial enthusiasm we once had as fresh-eyed and energetic medical students. Meeting with Ann brought me back to those early moments and not only reminded me of my earlier passion, but truly inspired me by showing me what’s to come from her and her colleagues in the future. I can’t wait for our next meeting!

Dr. Andrea Merrill is a chief resident in general surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital. During her residency she did a year of breast surgery outcomes research followed by a yearlong editorial fellowship at the New England Journal of Medicine. Next year she will be starting a surgical oncology fellowship at the James Cancer Hospital at the Ohio State University. She is currently serving as the AWS Resident and Fellow Committee representative. You can find her on twitter at @AndreaLMerrill.

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.

We are restarting the resident-medical student mentorship program nationwide through the Medical Student and Resident/Fellow committees. This program matches AWS medical student members interested in surgery with a current surgical resident mentor from AWS. Stay tuned for more information soon via email!

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