Why You Need (and Should Be) a Mentor

Emily Kahoud

Disclosures

November 19, 2018

Medicine is not an easy path. I know this, not from my experience—or lack thereof—as a naive first-year medical student, but from the experiences of others who have relayed this to me. Getting into medical school is often a high enough hurdle to keep a majority out. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the 2018-2019 application season saw a total of 849,678 applications from 52,777 applicants (an average of about 16 applications per applicant) with 21,623 matriculants. Thus, just about 41% of applicants actually matriculate, a percentage that's held stable for several years.

The statistics, however, do little to illuminate the valiant efforts of so many who have not yet made it past the entrance barrier. Do we know what characteristics are shared by those who make it in, and stay in, through residency? Are there any shared characteristics? As of right now, we'll have to keep wondering, but I'm curious as to how much of a role mentorship may play.

Everyone needs a mentor at some time or another. Regardless of how far we've come, or how far we still have to go, mentorship benefits both mentor and mentee in many ways. Dhanusha Sivajee's "3 Reasons Mentorship Leads to Winning for All Involved" references Shark Tank as the apotheosis of the mutual benefits. But a more common example may be what Sivajee describes in this same article: "Feedback is a gift, and oftentimes the feedback from mentors is the most real you will ever receive."

Feedback, as many of us already know, is as important in medicine as it is in the corporate world. One may argue it is more important, because lives (not just logistics) are at stake. It may be a crucial intervention not just for those embarking on the early stages of practicing medicine, but especially those at the outset. To many, in particular the approximately 60% who don't matriculate each application cycle, medicine sometimes feels like an exclusive club, with bouncers who take one look and turn folks away without so much as a single word exchanged. No opportunity to explain, to defend. Either you've got the superficial stats, or you don't.

For those of us who have nonprofessional parents or who are first-generation acceptees—at the undergrad or postgraduate levels, and particularly to medical school—mentorship may become all the more invaluable. I am extremely fortunate to have been mentored by a few amazing people; however, without one individual in particular, I am confident I would never be where I am today.

Knowing how so much of where I am now depended upon this one individual who took a risk on me further reinforces both the tenuous nature of accessing competitive and exclusive fields and reiterates how crucial it is to seek counsel from or to find role models to emulate along the way.

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