Showing posts with label Our Mentors topic day. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Our Mentors topic day. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Welcome to Topic Day on "Our Mentors"

Welome to another Topic Day on Mothers in Medicine! Today, we will be featuring posts all about our mentors: specific mentors, the difficulty of finding mentors, mentors who become friends, and more. We'll be posting regularly throughout the day.

Scroll down to find the posts...

Why I Quit

I don't have a mentor and I never did. But I did get some advice from an intern during my third year of med school that haunted me for many years after:

When I was a third year med student on my medicine clerkship, a intern named Jim saw me working on the ward at around 6PM. "What are you still doing here?" he asked, shaking his head at me.

"Huh?" I said.

"You should go home and study," Jim told me. "Or else..."

Or else I'll fail my boards? Look bad in front of the attending? Flunk out of med school and end up homeless and penniless on the street??

"...Or else you'll end up in internal medicine."

"Oh," I said, confused by Jim's ominous tone of voice. "Actually, I want to do internal medicine."

"Oh god," Jim said.

Interns typically are the most miserable and bitter people you'll meet in the hospital, but Jim was especially miserable and bitter because he wanted to match in radiology but didn't. He was stuck doing a prelim year in medicine and wasn't having much luck finding a radiology program that would take him. One day he was complaining about it and said to me:

"You know, it sucks. All this work going through med school and you can't even do the field that you want to do."

Those words really haunted me. I eventually came to realize that internal medicine was not my first choice and when I matched in it two years later as a compromise (long geography-related story), I kept thinking to myself, All this work going through med school and I can't even do the field that I want to do. When I hid in the call room during my dreaded internship ICU rotation, I angrily thought to myself, All this work going through med school and I can't even do the field that I want to do.

So I quit. To do the field that I wanted to do.

Thanks, Jim!


In Homer’s epic, The Odyssey, he introduces us to Mentor, a character to whom Odysseus leaves in charge of his household while Odysseus goes off to the Trojan War. Depending on which scholar you subscribe to, Mentor is not an entirely successful guardian. He allows courtiers to woo Odysseus’s wife, Penelope in his absence. It is the appearance of Athena, goddess of wisdom and war, who disguises herself as Mentor, who shakes some sense into Telemachus, Penelope’s son.

"And yet you did not know me, Pallas Athene, Daughter of Zeus, who [will] always stand by your side and guard you through all your adventures."1

Fast forward a few thousand years. What does mentor mean today? What does a mentor look like? I have asked myself those same questions many times – and not just in the past 36 hours as I’m trying to meet our Topic Day deadline. In my mind’s eye, a mentor is someone who’s a lot like me – maybe a little older, a couple more gray hairs, and a few more life experiences under her belt. This mentor has a similar job and balances life successfully between work and home. She has the same issues with being a breadwinner or weight gain or feminism or being a leader in a predominantly male hospital culture. In lazier moments, I can be a cc or carbon copy or her and just follow in her hard won footsteps. No need to reinvent the wheel here.

But that person doesn’t exist, at least, not in my world. Like Athena, my mentors have come in many guises and where I least expect them. Like you, I had assigned advisors, and I learned plenty of pearls from those people. Those advisors were wise and understanding. For me, though, my mentors have had additional almost familial qualities and seem extra invested in their advice. My partner in my first practice was a mentor although I didn’t know it at the time. Warren's keen sense of business acumen guided me through the first three years of life as a private practice pediatrician. At the time, his work holism drove me crazy especially on the day after Christmas when we saw seventy (70) patients each. His philosophy was we’d see “em, as long as they kept calling for appointments.

When I opened my own business, I realized what production really meant. It wasn’t just some fancy word for working your ass off – production pays the overhead and coasts my practice through lean summer schedules. Some days my office feels like a spin-off of my first practice especially the days I have to prod the other staff members to hustle. Warren also taught me to honor my community. The drycleaner who brings all seven children to my office for well child care gets my dry cleaning business in return. Giving back to the same community who supported him was a tenant that he lived by and that rubbed off on me, too. He even introduced me to my future husband. He was that invested in me and my career, and while he was too young to be a father figure, the mentor role suited him perfectly.

Other mentors are not so obvious. If you gave Dr. William Wilkoff my name, he would likely say “who?” I’ve never met the man, but each column he writes in Pediatric News is filled with anecdotes and common sense about his life as a pediatrician. Some are advice to the pediatrician like this Oct. 2003 article:

“As pediatricians for the new millennium, one of the many tasks for which we haven't been formally trained is to help parents learn to say no to their children. It may not have the ring of political correctness, but the health of our nation depends on it. Simply telling parents to “just say no” isn't enough. We must convince them that setting limits can be an important health issue by giving them the facts about obesity, accidents and a sedentary lifestyle. We must support parents by telling them that we understand why saying no can be difficult but that, when done properly, it is the right thing to do.” 2

Other columns comment on the demographic shift in pediatrics:

“Here in Brunswick, I have already been challenged by and benefited from the ramifications of this nationwide gender shift. My partners, Deb and Andrea, offer a perspective that teenage girls appreciate, and they project a warm and fuzzy image that appeals to the parents who find my no-nonsense style too hard edged. ”3

I love the practicalities Dr. Wilkoff discusses monthly. These are things I didn’t grasp in residency, and his warm and self-effacing manner focus on the art of medicine. He focuses on the science, too:

“Researchers recently discovered that there are two peaks for the termination of breast-feeding during the first 4 months post partum. The first occurs during the first week, when one-quarter of mothers stop breast-feeding. The investigators observed, “This timing suggests that a 1-week postpartum visit for well-child care is too late to intervene for many breast-feeding mothers” (Pediatrics 107[3]:543-48, 2001).
It's hard to make the handwriting on the wall any clearer. If we want to protect our patients from kernicterus, and if we truly believe that breast milk is the best first food for babies, then we all should be seeing our patients 2 or 3 days after hospital discharge.”4

The last piece of wisdom I’ve learned from all of these mentors is that my life is MY LIFE. Only I can navigate the path, and to carbon copy is cheating myself out of the opportunity to be a better, more balanced person. I don’t have to see 60 or 70 patients a day to be a good physician, but I need to be available at least 3 days a weeks to give my patients (& staff) some continuity. It’s what I do with their advice that matters, but they’re here for the long haul. I hope you find or have found that kind of support system – one that won’t let you carbon copy. Like Athena, it may be disguised and where you least expect it.

(1) Homer, The Odyssey: 210
(2) Wilkoff, William “‘No’ Problem “Pediatric News October 2003 (Vol. 37, Issue 10, Page 33)
(3) Wilkoff, William G.” The Feminization of Pediatrics” Pediatric News August 2002 (Vol. 36, Issue 8, Page 24)
(4) Wilkoff, William G.” Neonates Can’t Wait” Pediatric News; Volume 35, issue 12, Page 43 (December 2001)

Advice from a mentor

I've been fortunate to have worked with many individuals who have sheparded me through various stages from medical school to the present; limitation of time and space doesn't allow me to describe how each of them contributed to making me the person I am today.

But as I was pondering what to share, one memory kept pushing to the front of my brain: This was a statement from a woman who I admired greatly during the early years of my career and am pleased to share a working relationship with today. At the time she told me this, she had three school-age children and a nicely balanced life. I had two very young boys and felt like every day was a struggle. I vented one afternoon about my frustrations with my morning schedule; I knew it was my choice to take my son to preschool, but when I did this (seemingly) straightforward task I was invariably late to the clinic to see patients and ran behind for the day. Her response to me was so elegant in its simplicity that even today I admire it. What were those words of wisdom? "Start your clinic day fifteen minutes later." An invisible solution until it was pointed out to me, and with those seven words my outlook changed dramatically. Yes, I could put my family first and still be an effective physician. Yes, I did have some control over my days. Yes, even I could find some balance.

Today, as young women rotate through my office I try and discuss with them how being a mother has changed me as a physician (only for the better!), and I try to emphasize that they, too, will likely be able to find the balance they need. Sometimes its just a matter of letting someone show you the simple solution that you can't see on your own.



Before residency, I doubted I would find a mentor in medicine. Who but me could have varying interests, put her family in front of her career and still be wildly successful? Surely, I thought in my typically narcissistic way, I am one of a kind.

But then I met Karen.

Karen became residency director shortly after I joined the program. She is a busy woman, and I think we all figured she would put our needs last on her agenda, but Karen proved to me that time is relative.

She has three little kids, all well-adjusted and involved in their own sports and activities. Her husband has an equally high profile career and they don't have a nanny. But somehow, she was able to meet with us whenever we needed her. She counseled, mothered and taught us until we became doctors.

After residency, Karen and I became colleagues when I joined faculty. I watched her handle departmental dramas and marveled at how she quietly but swiftly worked her projects through the bureaucracy. She spent time with her patients and they were devoted to her. She lectured, published and kept up with relevant research. She had plenty of non-medical interests and activities and kept up with non-medical friends. And she never apologized for being a devoted and attentive mom.

When I decided academia wasn't for me, Karen blessed my departure. We don't talk much anymore, but I know her office door is always open should I need to talk, cry or laugh.

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.


I went through medical school at the edge of the first large wave of women admitted since the forties. In the 1970s, the whole concept of mentoring was murky. Daniel Levinson’s book on adult male development had highlighted the importance of mentorship, mostly in the business context and mostly from the point of view of the value of being a mentor. We called our mentors advisors. In college, my relation to my advisor was distant—I doubt she could have picked me from a police lineup—and medical schools had not yet recognized the need.

Beyond the deficits of the system, being a young woman in an environment where all the potential mentors were older men, I felt uneasy about seeking a mentor. The boundary between mentor and puppetmaster was too thin. Though I aspired to an academic career, I knew that the careers of my possible mentors were not for me. I wanted a family, and I was not prepared to work evenings and weekends on articles that might add weight to my resume but only add burden to what others were expected to read. How to be creative, individual, and sane were my goals, and the few senior faculty who reached out to me, or who I approached, could not really speak to my condition. The best one of them came up with was that I was promising but an underachiever.

Fortunately, though I lacked mentors, I had models aplenty. I admired extravagantly the men who taught me, mainly by example, how to be a teaching doctor. I remember seeing my physical diagnosis tutor examining a patient’s abdomen. He was a big guy with huge hands, and the gentleness with which he showed us the liver edge moved me almost to tears. I knew my hands would never look like that, and that I would have to struggle not to seem sharp and small touching people, but I did learn that a doctor’s touch could warm and heal as well as probe. Another tutor took us to see a man (whom he did not previously know) who was recovering from a stroke. The man’s worried wife was standing behind him. My tutor managed to demonstrate the extent of the patient’s continued paralysis, while his words to the patient and his wife conveyed how much he seemed to improving. Neither of these men will ever know the impact that observing their blended skill and compassion had on me, but neither will I ever forget those or other moments that so nourished my growth from student to doctor.

Now I am in a position to mentor students myself, and I find it tough going. They are so silent, so fearful of expressing themselves, of making errors or seeming uncertain. I can only hope that they see me the way I saw the people I admired. Perhaps someday something I did or said will be communicated to other students as an example of what good mentoring can be about.

Guest Post: Jane

Lucky to have had many mentors and stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before me. Mom, Dad, and others too in many ways.

But I want to tell you about my third year medicine intern. I entered that rotation totally confident and blissfully unaware of the challenges of combining motherhood and medicine.

Jane (not her real name) was married and mother of a young toddler. Her husband also worked for pay and they had a nanny watching the kid. This was in 1992. Jane knew I was newly married and told me how they work their family system. Jane had a code worked out with the nanny to use with her beeper.

Remember beepers with the one row of numbers that would appear after the caller typed them into their phone? No words, no keypads, no cell phones. Jane had gotten her nanny a beeper as well. If Jane was going to be home at the usual time, she did not call in. If Jane was going to be home in one hour, she typed in '1'. If nanny wanted to Jane to call home to talk, she typed in another code.

And, of course, if there were an emergency, either one would type in '911.'

This let Jane get messages of all sorts from the nanny and stay connected in real time while rushing throughout the hospital doing intern things.

While I had no clue about the variety of issues on the horizon for myself, I always appreciated the earnest and urgent need Jane had to impart her wisdom and experience and sisterhood.

I have not kept in touch with Jane, but hope we do reconnect some day.

Jane, if you are out there reading THANK YOU!

post by Tigermom

What is a Mentor, and Where Can I Find One?

I used to think that the word "mentor" was derived from mens, the Latin word for "mind," or men, the Indo-European root for "thinking," and the suffix -or, meaning "one who does or creates" the thing described by the root of the word. Thus a mentor would be one who uses the mind or forms a person's thinking.

But of course the word mentor doesn't come from such a derivation at all. Mentor was the guardian of Telemachus, son of Odysseus, and in The Odyssey the goddess of wisdom assumed Mentor's form to aid Telemachus, one of her favorites among mortals (as well as to escape notice by Penelope's suitors).

Homer's Mentor is a mere minor character, however, without all the attributes of the "experienced and trusted advisor" the Oxford English Dictionary leads us to believe such a figure should have. Where do we get the archetype of a wise teacher who cares about, nurtures, and encourages the learner - who builds up the learner's intellect rather than doing the opposite, sucking out the student's soul, as J.K. Rowling's DE-mentors do?

For that sort of character we have François Fénelon to thank, whose enormously popular book Les Aventures de Télémaque, published in 1699, was "a continuation of The Odyssey from an educational vista," according to author Andy Roberts. It brought Mentor to the forefront as a major character with tremendous influence over the story's hero. "It is Fénelon," Roberts continues, "not Homer, who endows his Mentor with the qualities, abilities, and attributes that have come to be incorporated into the action of modern day mentoring." The word mentor came into modern usage in English in 1750.

I am rambling on about these literary and historic niceties because I enjoy them. But I am also having a hard time writing about an actual mentor. From what I can gather from my own experience and from other people, finding a mentor in medicine usually happens by a great stroke of luck; it's not automatic. You'd think that in a profession supposedly built on compassion and learning, mentors would abound. The word doctor, in fact, means teacher in Latin. But it's not that easy to find good mentors. It may be harder still for those who long for a mentor who is a woman.

There were many teachers, of course, who gave me terrific lessons I carry with me to this day; but a mentor is more than a good teacher or role model. A mentor is someone with whom you have a relationship - someone who truly cares about your formation and expends energy, real work, to help you through it, and wants to do so. A mentor believes in you and communicates that faith; a mentor listens, and can be trusted with your struggles and your successes; a mentor teaches and guides without resorting to a power differential to exert influence; a mentor has a personal stake in the education of the whole learner - intellectual, moral, physical, spiritual - and, therefore, cares deeply about the learner's character and responses to the world as well as his or her knowledge.

I do have a couple of people who always come to mind whenever I hear the word mentor: my med school anatomy professor, Dr. Matthew Pravetz, who also baptized my youngest child; and from my days in pediatrics, Dr. Indira Dasgupta, a woman whose dignity, intelligence, compassion, and humor I hold in my heart to this day. There have been few people in my career who have helped me believe - as they did and as every mentor should help his or her "telemachus" believe - "You can do this. You are good. Your work will make a difference. I'll be there for you if you need me." Even the most independent-minded and confident person needs guidance at one point or another, or loses faith, or needs help. Mentors ultimately stoke the fire and help keep the faith. Happy are those who are blessed with some good ones