Being a mentor

“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” — Oprah Winfrey

Reflecting on my journey, I realized that every patient I cared for; every position I held; and every time I dared to change my location provided an opportunity for professional and personal growth. There were painful moments of uncertainty and regret, but they gave me strength and determination. It was the colleagues I worked with that in their small ways lifted me beyond those difficult moments and allowed me to develop my clinical and leadership skills.

When I started in academic Family Medicine in 1996, there were so few African American and Latino educators in Family Medicine. Unfortunately, that is still true but for those of us who are there, we are committed to mentoring the next generation. I still feel like I am early in my career. I feel I have so much more to share. Those pioneers that I met are still paving the way for me and others through their work. I have been fortunate to have those mentors request that I accept a leadership role they held because they knew I could handle the responsibility. I always said, “are you sure?” and they would answer “yes”. They showed support by just saying “please call me if you have any questions.” Believe me I have so many times. I value their experience and wisdom.

I am fortunate enough to be mentoring some wonderful URM women who are so intelligent and full of great ideas to impact our profession. They have a unique prospective because they are first generation medical professionals who come from hard working families. They see like I did the small numbers of underrepresented minorities (URM) in medicine. They are especially concerned about the low number of URM males.

I was fortunate enough to have one of my mentees ask me to do a mock interview with her cousin who was having a big interview at a very prestigious medical school. On the day of our call, we went through some questions. I asked him “why he wanted to go into medicine”. And he gave me the usual answer. I found myself telling him, that we have heard that before. “Tell me who you are and why you should be here?” He then told me about his family and his personal commitment to be in medicine and care for patients. I was almost in tears as he opened up and shared his family’s struggle. I told him “that is the story you tell.”   It is hard to believe that he is almost ready to graduate from medical school . He is a Black male who was provided the opportunity to study and thrive in a supportive environment. I know he will impact medicine by just being a role model for so many other Black males.

Each time I am contacted to talk with someone about how to navigate getting into medical school, I am so angered by the misinformation they have received. This goes back to 1996, when I met a young man who with some direction is now a successful medical professional. I still have the letter that the Dean of his medical school sent informing me they had accepted him. He thanked me for my encouragement and support.

Mentoring is what revives my spirit and renews my hope. Every time I meet with one of my mentees, it is an exchange of ideas and the energy that is palpable. I have had the opportunity to mentor a diverse group of medical students and residents.  I edit articles, give advice on career opportunities or just listen to what is happening in their personal life- the wedding plans, the choice to go into Obstetrics and not family medicine or choose a fellowship. I do have a copy of almost every letter I have written. I enjoy reading each one. They have gone on to successful careers. I have pictures of new babies and see journal articles and presentations they are doing. One student is now a successful Urologist. I remember his interview. If you just looked at the paper, you would have passed him over. He told me his story. At that interview, I saw such potential in him, and he proved me right. I have so many of these stories. They all are such bright stars.

It is so inspiring to see those who I have mentored pay it forward. There is a whole new generation of aspiring URM doctors that despite all the work we have tried to do, have to deal with poor academic advising, lack of mentors and role models, the high cost of just preparing for the MCAT and then applying to medical school. We must get to them early and make sure they know how to navigate through a system that favors those privileged few. The information out there is generic and does not address the challenges of those who are working their way through undergraduate and postbaccalaureate degrees while studying for the MCAT and supporting themselves and their families.

So, let’s all roll up our sleeves because we have work to do. Let’s use our talents to mentor the next generation.

  “A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.” Bob Proctor



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