How Can I Befriend a Resident?

Megan L. Fix, MD


June 27, 2012


How can I build a lasting relationship with a resident who can mentor me on my career and residency?

Response from Megan L. Fix, MD
Associate Residency Director, Emergency Medicine, The University of Utah, Salt Lake City

We often talk about mentorship coming from attending physicians and professors, but don't forget about residents. They have been through medical school recently and are usually sympathetic to students. They are often more approachable than attendings.

Residents can offer great advice about clinical rotations, residency programs, where to interview, and how to succeed. They can also put in a good word for you to their program's director, especially if you want to stay at your home institution.

Start seeking resident mentors early in medical school. In approaching them, be collegial and friendly, and look up to them. Being asked for advice is a usually a great feeling.

Here are a few tips to help you find and keep resident mentors.

Seek out a few kindred spirits in your chosen field(s). From the moment you start interacting with residents, try to "connect" with a few who exemplify the qualities you admire. If you are still deciding among specialties, find a resident in each field and ask them to have coffee with you or sit down to weigh the pros and cons of their particular choice. Similar to when you visit with faculty mentors, it's helpful to have a list of questions to bring to your meeting.

Join an "interest group" and ask questions. Many schools have interest groups for certain specialties. Get active with these to show your support. Often, residents will volunteer to give talks, teach suture or IV labs, and host journal clubs for students. Making an effort to attend and get involved shows your dedication to the specialty. Be helpful and volunteer to plan events or do other tasks.

Follow through. Once you find resident mentors, make sure you are organized, and never cancel on them. Residents are busy, and if they meet with you, they are taking precious time out of their lives. Respect them and their time, and come prepared with questions. Likewise, if you volunteer for an activity that includes residents, know that they will notice if you don't show or do a second-rate job.

Be polite and sociable. Residents will advocate for students they respect to the program director, but they will also be honest if they do not like someone. When you connect with a resident, make sure you are career-minded and sociable. For example, try to attend if they ask you to go out after work.

Know that you are being evaluated. Residents are watching your clinical skills. Don't think that you are being evaluated by attendings only. Always be honest and ethical, and show up on time for everything.

Stay in contact during interview season. It's perfectly fine to ask a resident for advice about interviewing. They know the scoop on programs and the interview trail. Make sure you don't "ask and run," but instead follow through and thank residents for their time. Be honest with them as you navigate your choices. People don't like being told one thing and then hearing from someone else that you said something different.

Don't slack on other rotations. Residents are friends with other residents and even though you did awesome in medicine -- your chosen field -- they may hear that you were absent or aloof on your psychiatry rotation and mention this to the program director.

Thank them. I am a sucker for traditional thank-you cards, but an email is perfectly appropriate these days as well. Remember, residents are busy people (as you will be soon!), and feeling appreciated can make all the difference.

Most of all, residents are great people and can be lasting friends and mentors for years to come. Appreciate the relationships that you make along the way.