Bad Mentors

14 Nov 2019

By Carolina Torres Perez-Iglesias

Throughout our lives we meet amazing people that connect with us in meaningful, unexpected ways. They are able to transform our previous ideas into new and exciting aspirations. Medical school and residency are certainly no exception to this, especially in an era when comprehensive feedback is encouraged and sometimes even mandated. We aim for valid and well-reasoned opinions that allow us to continue improving and bring us closer to our goals. Yet we don’t always find this. Frequently, we encounter a different kind of mentor. The kind who miserably fails to empathize with our beliefs and tries to force their perspectives into our plans, leaving us feeling frustrated and confused. However, it is through these experiences that we can also learn how to acknowledge negative perceptions and use these to reshape our confidence.  This is why we need the bad mentors.

By the time I completed my medical studies in Latin America, I had encountered a fair number of similar unpleasant interactions. At that time, most positions of authority were occupied by men, and the gender gap between female and male physicians was just starting to change. I received many unwanted sexist opinions regarding the role of women in surgery and I was expected to be intimidated by a career that many considered “unsuitable for a girl” and a “waste of years and resources”. These so-called mentors believed they had the ultimate prediction about my life as a surgeon and a woman, condemn the possibility of a successful work-life balance. I wasn’t being judged by my abilities or my knowledge but primarily by my gender, which made me feel uncertain and anxious regarding my future plans. Thankfully, I realized that my approval-seeking behavior was not allowing me to assimilate these negative comments correctly. During these years, I also met incredible role models that supported me in pursuing a surgical career abroad and continued to teach me how to transform negative criticism and harmful stereotypes into incentives to prove the doubters wrong.

Medicine is a field that demands we engage in continuous learning and we must also learn to find value in our interactions with others, both positive and negative ones. Confronting differing ideas is the exposure therapy we need to make us feel more comfortable with our own fears and goals. The motivation to stay committed to a task will grow as a result of the intensity of our desire to achieve that goal and the expectations that we create for ourselves. Negative feedback is not harmful when we use it to reinforce our passion and keep us on track with our actions. Positive mentoring helps reassure us to continue our hard work and keep aiming high, but negative mentoring is indispensable to challenge our expectations and goals. The self-improvement circle can only be completed when we find that balance.

Carolina Torres Perez-Iglesias MD is a  General Surgery resident at Boston Medical Center. She is originally from Lima, Perú, where she completed medical school at the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia. She is invested in pursuing an academic career in surgery with a specific interest in global health and finding a work-life balance between surgery, gardening, pet-parenting, cooking and her early modern art affection. You can find her on Twitter @cucuTPI.


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.

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