MEDICAL STUDENT MENTORING

Mentoring is an art form developed in the United States in the 1970s within large private companies and corporations and is used to support junior staff. Since the 1990s, mentoring programs have emerged in various medical professions, most frequently in the field of nursing though, rather than physician practice. Formal mentoring programs for medical students and doctors did not develop until the late 1990s (Buddeberg-Fisher and Herta 2006).

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SOME PERSPECTIVES ON MEDICAL MENTORSHIPS

Despite the availability of other satisfying or more lucrative career opportunities for the bright and altruistic, admissions to medical schools remain desirable and competitive, thanks largely to an influx of talented and qualified female and minority applicants.  Premedical and medical education has always been stressfully competitive and a financial burden. "Stress in medical school" even merits its own individual entry on Wikipedia.

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MY EXPERIENCES MENTORING

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to become a doctor. However, I did not realize all the challenges I would have to face in order to make my dreams come true, and I also did not know who I was going to meet along the way to help me become a successful medical student.  When I was reapplying to medical school, I was told gaining more clinical experience could strengthen my application. I reached out to as many physicians as I could in order to shadow them.

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The LMS-UK College of Medicine Mentorship Program is an innovative collaboration. The program was described by LMS president Dr. Bob Granacher and details were provided by LMS CEO Chris Hickey in the organization's July newsletter (available at lexingtondoctors.org in the "newsletter bookshelf " of the newsletter archives). A sophisticated software program is used to strive for a compatible mentor- mentee match but also to subsequently monitor and support the program. The actual matching process – similar to that of some online dating or matching services – is easy, brief, and actually rather entertaining in its requirement for introspection.


Do such mentoring programs really work? Dr. Granacher addressed this in his July overview, and several studies suggest that medical mentorships are associated with improvements in mentee health, attitudes, relationships, career advancement, and health care provision. Of course, each mentorship program must be judged on its own merits – thus, the importance of the software-enabled monitoring aspect of the program.


There might be a special need for women as medical mentors. (It is perhaps telling that Homer's Telemachus was only properly educated when the goddess Athena assumed the task from Mentor.) The number of U.S. medical school graduates who are female has increased to over 45%. Yet, among practicing physicians a significantly higher proportion of women than men report feelings of career burnout, perhaps because of the added responsibilities of childbirth and motherhood or outdated gender stereotyping by patients and professional colleagues.


I have never before participated in a formal mentorship program, but throughout my medical education and career I have enjoyed many informal relationships as both mentee and mentor. Several specific physicians served as role models during my residency and subspecialty training and later years of practice. Not only did they impart medical knowledge and expertise; they also provided invaluable career advice and instilled a solid work ethic. They also exemplified the proper balance of work and family, emphasizing the need for pursuits outside of medicine. I hope I can pass along to a medical student some of the wise advice that was afforded me by my mentors, and I myself expect to benefit from the interaction with a younger, future doctor.

Despite the availability of other satisfying or more lucrative career opportunities for the bright and altruistic, admissions to medical schools remain desirable and competitive, thanks largely to an influx of talented and qualified female and minority applicants.  Premedical and medical education has always been stressfully competitive and a financial burden. "Stress in medical school" even merits its own individual entry on Wikipedia. Internship and residency add to this the stress of life and death decisions that sometimes confront nearly all physicians increase stress. High rates of depression, burnout, substance abuse, and suicide are notable among doctors in training and active practice. Increasing requirements for documentation of care as well as cumbersome health record systems are often cited as reasons for frustration.


Nevertheless, surveys show that the great majority of practicing physicians are content with their compensation and lifestyles, particularly the latter, with most doctors enjoying the opportunity to use their knowledge and skills to address patients' concerns. If given the chance to do it all over, most doctors say they would again choose the medical profession and select their same specialty.


I recently enrolled in a new program to bring medical students together with physicians in a mentor-mentee relationship. The mentors are asked to support, encourage, and advise third year students as they transition from mostly academic studies to the clinical world. The program is a joint venture of the Lexington Medical Society (LMS) and the University of Kentucky College of Medicine.  If the inaugural year proves

BY THOMAS J. GOODENOW, MD

successful, possibly the program can be expanded to include others in training.


A mentor is usually described as a wise, trusted counselor, teacher, or guide to a less experienced (and usually younger) person in a professional or educational endeavor.  In older terminology, the mentee was often termed the protege or apprentice.


The original Mentor appeared in the Greek poet Homer's epic Odyssey. An old and trusted friend of the story's chief protagonist, Mentor was entrusted with the care of the family of Odysseus, especially the supervision of the infant son Telemachus while dad was away for twenty years fighting in the Trojan War and roving the Mediterranean.


Use of the actual term "mentor" was uncommon before the late 20th century, and organized mentorship programs have only become popular in the last half century. The doctor-student mentorship is sometimes described as a life-work integration and career development relationship that is somewhat different from technology or business model mentorships of other industries.    

THOMAS J. GOODENOW, MD

Dr. Goodenow practiced medicine for 42 years, the last 37 as an endocrinologist at the Lexington Clinic