In the modern era of healthcare, the word “doctor” is used to signify a person as a qualified practitioner of medicine. Moreover, the term “doctor” is derived from a Latin word, docēre, meaning teacher. This definition is appropriate because patients rely on healthcare providers to educate them about diseases and explain follow-up treatments. But beyond only educating patients, medical practitioners play a critical role as mentors to medical students and other providers.
Mentors are experienced navigators who understand a mentee’s goals and struggles, and suggest possible solutions for the many unknowns in medical education, the practice of medicine, and perhaps even life more generally. Good mentorship is key on the journey towards becoming a physician and simultaneously acts as a defining quality of a successful physician. While the definition of mentorship varies greatly, it can simply be distilled into one word: Guidance.
The true value of mentorship comes from the relationship. Mentorship becomes fruitful when a mentor is truly invested in the mentee’s success, and when the mentee can identify with the mentor on a personal level. This allows the mentee to confide their passions and be certain that the mentor will altruistically and ardently support their ambitions. The same is true in patient care — a physician must build trust with the patient and get to know their goals to truly effect change in their health.
But what’s the best way to find an exceptional mentor? And equally as important, how do you become a graceful mentor? It is important to find someone you respect and would like to emulate.
The following are qualities of my outstanding mentors and how they helped guide me. I’ve also found these to be essential traits in successful patient-provider relationships. Essentially, these qualities make for an effective and trustworthy teacher.
Believers. Motivators. People who see your true potential even when you are not able to. They help set measurable goals for you with frequent checkpoints to assess your progress. They encourage you and inspire you to push yourself to the next level.
Encouragement. Hope. Availability. Support comes in many forms but is quintessential in a mentor. They are in your corner when you achieve your goals, but they are also there to pick you up and dust you off when you don’t quite make it to the finish line. You may not be the chief resident or head of the ICU yet, but they make you feel valuable with the time they invest in you. It’s not a challenge to hunt them down for advice because they know your worth and believe their time invested in you is well spent.
Trainers. Coaches. They have experience in the field, are successful, and are well respected by their colleagues for the qualities you would like to emulate. They’ve worked hard and overcome challenges. They are able to help you learn from their own mistakes so you don’t have to suffer in the same manner they did. They teach you that fire is hot without you having to get burned. Mentors are able to patiently explain concepts in multiple ways so you can successfully apply their advice when challenging situations arise.
Guides. Team players. Forerunners. They’ve taken the road less travelled for personal development, yet they are able to work cohesively in teams because they understand they are working for the greater good. They run, not walk, to evoke change and make a difference. Mentors are leaders because they speak with their actions, rather than always with words. They stand up for what is right, not what is popular — even if they are among only a few.
Listeners. Altruistic. They hear you, try to understand you, and help you work towards your goals. They’re not here for their own personal gain, they’re here to make sure you are heard. They’re present because they were once in your shoes and realize they would not have been able to achieve success without their own mentors. Mentors are here to make a difference by making you feel differently about yourself and all that you can achieve.
A mentor may have all of these qualities or may excel in certain characteristics. And you may have multiple mentors who encompass different roles at various points in your career. Equally as important, as a practicing medical professional you must be a malleable mentor that molds to your mentees’ needs — just as you would for a patient.
As a reminder to myself and all mentees, no matter how perfect a mentor is for us, we must all strive, take initiative, and follow up with their recommendations to truly make the most of this unique relationship.
A special thank you to all of my mentors who continue to support me on my journey through life: my parents, Dr. Tamizuddin, Mr. Carter, Mrs. Hagan, Stephanie, Dr. Cirillo, Dr. Shah, Dr. Dykens, Dr. Jericho, Dr. Mikuls, Dr. Thiele, Dr. Khullar, Dr. Alom, Dr. Matus, Dr. Wuescher, Dr. Farrell, Ben, and the village that it took to raise me.
Rafid Rahman, MD, is a resident physician at the University of Toledo College of Medicine and an incoming Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation resident at the University of Missouri School of Medicine.
Last Updated November 22, 2021