Thursday, December 19, 2013

Finding a Mentor

Author: Nick Pettit, Ph.D. OMS II
Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine

“Don’t go into that field of medicine, I know fifty burned out doc’s in that field.” While on one of my first clinical experiences I found it discouraging when I expressed an
interest in emergency medicine (EM) and the attending I was working with immediately
rejected my idea of going into this field with a negative opinion. Unfortunately, such
negative connotations frequently arise when mentioning EM, especially with non-EM
faculty.[1] As such, due to the brevity of medical school, it is imperative as medical
students to not only find a good mentor but to find one as early on as possible.

There are many approaches to finding a mentor, and it all starts by being involved. While one may be tempted to stick with the familiarity of the faculty one is exposed to at medical school, it is strongly encouraged and possible to branch out. First, research is one of the most effective methods for networking, and regardless of your school’s location there are always opportunities for research. To find out about research, email various faculty at your local teaching hospital, express your interest in working with them, and ask and if they have a program which takes students. The worst thing they will say is no, but truth be told, most faculty love having students around, and this will open doors to both research and finding a mentor. Like a symbiosis, physicians like to mentor and teach students, while students simultaneously assist physicians with the research, writing grants, and presenting research data.

Not interested in research, but still want to get involved, there are still other options to get involved and network. For example, attending conferences, such as the 20th Annual Scientific Assembly is another great approach to meeting people in specialties of interest. Every medical specialty hosts conferences students can attend, which will increase the likelihood of finding a mentor, as well as improve one’s resume.

In addition, most medical schools have local interest groups commonly introducing students to national organizations, such as the AAEM/RSA, which provide various networking opportunities for medical students. Lastly, virtual advising programs exist and have demonstrated success in matching students with mentors.[2] Such programs are available through,,, and With the advantages of social media and email, virtual mentorship may be convenient for both the students and mentors.

Once you have begun the process of actively finding a mentor there are certain things to keep in mind. Most important is the mentor being an active listener with the ability to clearly identify the mentee’s strengths and assist in defining and attaining goals.[3] That is to say, the mentor should act as a two way street, listening and absorbing to what the medical student has to say, then following up with recommendations or suggestions which will benefit the student’s career. Furthermore, while it may be helpful to have a mentor in a specific field, that is not entirely a necessity. It is more important to have a mentor seeking to help the student grow and become their own individual, rather than just becoming a clone of the mentor.4 In closing, no matter what school you chose to attend, finding a mentor is critical and possible as there are countless research, clinical, and online opportunities available.

1. Blumstein HA, Cone DC. Medical student career advice related to emergency medicine. Acad Emerg Med 1998;5:69-72.

2. Coates WC, Ankel F, Birnbaum A, et al. The virtual advisor program: linking students to mentors via the world wide web. Acad Emerg Med 2004;11:253-5.

3. Williams LL, Levine JB, Malhotra S, et al. The good enough mentoring relationship. Acad Psychiatry 2004;28:111-5.

4. Yueng M, Nuth J, Stiell IG. Mentoring in emergency medicine: the art and the

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