Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Fabulous Mentor-Friend

I got matched up with my mentor by fate. I can't even remember how I ended up meeting with the medicine division chief as a student, but there I was, telling him how I wanted to get involved with some kind of clinical research in women's health, and he gave me her name.

An unusual name. Sounded vaguely familiar.

From the moment I met Fabulous Mentor (FM), I was in awe of her fabulousness. She was junior faculty, had tons of enthusiasm and a wardrobe to drool over. FM was a star in our high-powered academic institution. Radiant energy.

We started working on a research project together, and when I say 'together', I mean she made me feel like it was mine too. She'd ask me, a lowly medical student, my opinion about things and made me feel smart and important. Her generosity of encouragement and praise helped fuel me.

FM wrote one of my letters of recommendation for residency, and one day, she let me see it. There were exclamation points!!! There were words written in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. It was a letter like I had never seen before. A letter to frame. I got into my first choice residency, staying at my same institution, and I wondered how much of a role she played.

Throughout my residency years, she was a constant advocate for me. We worked on a couple of other projects along the way, gaining me authorship and, importantly, learning how academics worked. I always felt so lucky to have this relationship with her that others didn't.

My husband and I announced our engagement to her and her husband over dinner one spring night. A few years later, I would go to her baby shower. And her, mine. We would write or call and talk about life or babies or jobs, long after I graduated medical school and residency.

It's strange how you can wake up one day and realize you are more than mentor-student, but friends. Although, it always feels slightly lopsided. I will always partly be that awe- and admiration-filled medical student hoping to be just like her someday.

FM is fabulously successful in her career now, of course. And I'm still looking to her for career advice, in between talking about babies and life.
Meanwhile, I find myself in the mentoring position with my own student mentees. Students whom I hope I can adequately guide, counsel, and, hopefully, inspire. They have been mainly women (by chance? by purpose?), women whom I hope will become friends, talking about life or babies or jobs one day, years from now. I'm paying it forward. I'm shooting for fabulousness.


  1. I am struck by your noting that your mentor's clothes were part of her fabulousness. The same was sort of true of one my mentors. I was an intern before I had the experience of being on an all female clinical team. When that happened, although we discussed medical issues with all the seriousness required, I also felt empowered to ask the attending for fashion advice. She had a great haircut, and I used one of my very precious days off to go see the Mr. Charles who had given to her, seeking my first haircut literally since childhood(I kept my long hair from the sixties longer than anyone). Unfortunately, nothing Mr. Charles could do could turn my limp blonde stuff into her thick black do--I got a really bad haircut that kept we out of beauty salons for another twenty years, but I still recall with pleasure interacting with a respected, serious person who also respected and took seriously issues that mattered to me as a young woman.

  2. Yes - I am with you on the lopsidedness! I am friends and colleagues with some former mentors and perpetually feel grateful and admiring, even when they defer to me on medical matters.


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