Mentoring medical students
First year medical students are vulnerable to stress. They are suddenly thrown into a new, challenging environment. A supportive infrastructure might make them feel at home. Mentoring seeks to do exactly that: provide a supportive environment. The relationship benefits mentors as well, through greater productivity, career satisfaction, and personal gratification. As one teacher says, ‘The greatest reward is the success of the students I have mentored’.1
What is mentoring?
Effective mentoring, like wisdom itself, is multidimensional. Mentors play many roles in students’ lives. “Guide,” “counselor,” “advisor,” “consultant,” “tutor,” “guru,” and “teacher,” are just some of them. A good mentor establishes a long-term personal relationship with a younger person and works to guide that individual toward independence and career success.2-4
How should it be done?
There is no single formula for good mentoring. You must use your own combination of professional expertise and personal style to mentor students. The best mentors adjust their multiple roles to meet different students’ needs.
Your role is to promote the educational, professional, and personal growth of your students.
Develop your own vision of good mentoring. Some basics of good Mentoring include:
Engaging students in dialogue
Let students know they are welcome to talk with you during college hours.
Set the frequency of your talks. It may be monthly or once every quarter, depending on the mentees needs. Reach out to those don't connect. They may be feeling social and academic isolation.
Share your coffee-time with students, if able. Let the student know that she/he is valuable enough to spend time with.
Demystifying medical college for students
Provide students with forthright assessments of their work.
Provide timely feedback. A delay in responding can create insecurity and hinder progress.
Provide constructive and supportive feedback. Remind students that you intend to help them improve.
Talk to students who fall behind in their work. It may not be a lack commitment. They may simply be exhausted or unclear about what to do next. They may be having difficulties with colleagues or teachers.
Address any problems in a timely manner. Putting issues aside may cause more damage later.
Encourage students to discuss their ideas, to try new techniques and expand their skills.
Reassure students of their skills and abilities to succeed. Let students know that even seasoned professionals experience anxiety at times.
Teach students how to break large scholarly tasks into smaller, more manageable ones to avoid becoming overwhelmed.
Suggest others who can help students if there is a need you cannot meet.
Providing a personal touch
Be open and approachable. Students may need to discuss certain academic and nonacademic issues. Knowing that they can come to you and that you care is helpful.
Help students find creative solutions to their challenges or problems.
Acquainting yourself with the common concerns of all medical student
Need for role models: students benefit from role models, professionals whose lives they want to emulate.
Feelings of isolation: may lead to loneliness and self-doubt, and in more severe cases, to depression.
Balancing work and lifestyle: students can feel overwhelmed if they think they are expected to spend every waking minute on their studies. Rather, encourage them to balance success in their studies/career with other responsibilities, such as family or extracurricular work.
Van Dyke is teacher, mentor, ‘ultra-bean’. Med Ed Update.
Mentoring: how to mentor graduate students. A faculty guide. Available at www.grad.washington.edu/mentoring/gradfacultymentor.pdf
Rose GL, Rukstalis MR, Schuckit MA. Informal Mentoring Between Faculty and Medical Students. Acad Med 2005;80:344–8.
Swanson KE. Mentorship Manual for Medical Students. 2001. Available at http://www.womeninmedicine.vcu.edu/PDF/MentorshipManual.pdf