The Influence of a Mentor

12 Jul 2015

by: Betzy Childers

When brainstorming about the role mentoring has played in my life, I realized it provided the answer to a question I have asked myself at various overwhelming and wonderful points in my 27 years of life, “How in the world did I end up here?” Now, I am wise enough to realize much of it is due to watchful and caring mentors who have shaped my journey, beginning with my parents.

My experience is an intricate mix of running and academia with goals and dreams to bring the two together.  I grew up as one of four children in a two-bedroom trailer home half a mile outside of a small cattle town in Hereford, Texas. My parents worked constantly, often two jobs, to make ends meet. They exemplified the meaning of determination and hard work, never wavering because they believed in a brighter future for their children. My mother often found work washing dishes, cleaning houses, and even worked nights at a meat-processing factory. Her fifth grade education didn’t impede her from instilling in us the value of working hard, being honest, and always doing our best. My father was off to work road construction before the sun rose and returned home after we had already eaten dinner. They taught me that pursuing a goal is possible when you believe it is a worthwhile cause. This is a valuable lesson that has applied to different challenges I have faced and will apply to challenges I will face on the road to becoming a surgeon.

I first proclaimed I wanted to be a doctor during the final rounds of my third grade science fair. I found it appropriate at the time since I managed to move from a Spanish speaking classroom to an English one. I was making strides. Thank goodness they didn’t ask me how I planned to pay my way through college or medical school because I had no idea. All I knew was I needed to do well in school and I knew I needed to go to college. I continued to do well and soon after entering junior high, I discovered I was also a pretty good runner. My high school coach noticed my talent and began to encourage me to work a bit harder. He continues to be a vital part of my life and a lifelong mentor. Through his vision I learned to commit to a goal, pursue it with purpose, and most importantly, believe in myself, even when others think you are completely out of your mind. I have found this invaluable because there will be occasions when people believe that you don’t belong. I am thankful that I am able to believe beyond their doubt, which is an ability that proves to be important for doctors, especially surgeons. My coach’s guidance helped me earn a fully sponsored education and athletic scholarship to The University of Texas in Austin.  This may have been the first time I thought, “How in the world did I end up here?” I was surrounded by world-class athletes, researchers, instructors and top-notch facilities. I had many once in a lifetime experiences. As a first generation college student and a student athlete, I learned to be increasingly tough, disciplined, and resilient. I returned to train under my high school mentor and earned a spot to represent Team USA in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2012, qualified for the Olympic Trials in the 5,000m later that year, and ran in the USA 5,000m Road Championships during my second year of medical school (2013). Pursuing my passions under the guidance of my mentors has encouraged me to dream a little bigger and be a little bolder. Each step has provided me with another tool or another learning experience. Above all else, I continue to have a love for running that remains with me wherever I go. It is something familiar and constant that helps me cope with the stresses of daily life in a healthy way. What a remarkable gift.

I started medical school in 2012 and found myself in disbelief that life was happening to me. Shortly into our first semester we were to meet with faculty in various specialties to begin developing our professional network. Oddly enough, my mentor is a brilliant transplant surgeon. I met with him for the first time outside of the OR at 7:00am. I was wogging (walking + jogging) down the hospital hallway, almost late because I was a little lost. I pretended I was not out of breath and proceeded to introduce myself. Since that day he has continued to be open and available for any question that I might have. He has never discouraged me from any idea or organization I decided to start. He extended an open invitation to team meetings, rounds, and a few surgeries when I didn’t have to be in class. I have had the opportunity to learn by observing him interact with others and with me. In some ways it has been a journey of self-discovery, realizing where I am inevitably meant to be. The transplant floor at our University opens into a long hallway lined with black and white portraits of transplant recipients. Some photos have both the donor and the recipient, both smiling into the camera because they share a unique bond. Medicine and the hands of a particular surgeon helped offer them another chance at life. They were granted a little more time to pursue whatever they believe is worthwhile.  I love walking down this long hallway. It inspires me to dream, to pursue, and ultimately become the surgeon I want to be.

February 5, 2015 marked another unforgettable moment in my life. While on my surgery rotation, I wandered down to my mentor’s OR since I heard mention of a transplant.  He immediately said, “Betzy you should scrub.” I had a flood of emotions. I went from wondering, “what am I doing here” to feeling sure of myself, an affirmative, “I belong here.” I marveled at his skill, his presence in the OR, and the absolute respect his team had for him. “Take the bovie and go through the skin. Get a sense for how it works.”

As I continue toward the completion of my third year, I reflect on my experiences and the mentors who have shaped who I am and who I want to be. Simply speaking, a mentor is someone who advises you. I believe I have received life lessons, tools, experiences, and inspiration from my mentors. They have each guided me to become who I am, developed my strengths, and exposed my weaknesses. They are individuals who I can come to openly with insecurities, questions, and any doubt about what comes next. I believe in the powerful influence one individual can have on another at any given point in life. I actively serve as a mentor for students from disadvantaged backgrounds and speak at high school events whenever I am granted the opportunity. My hope is that something I say or do will inspire them to dream wildly and grants them the courage to pursue what they believe is worthwhile. All of which, many others have done for me.

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