Tino Mkorombindo is a third year MD/MBA candidate at the University of Louisville School of Medicine/College of Business. You can follow him on instagram, twitter, or linkedin.
Choosing your mentor(s) is one of the most important decisions you will have to make. The problem many students make is that they believe mentors and advisors are synonymous; unfortunately, that is not true. Academic advisors may have a multitude of students pre-selected by their medical school, or many may not be as invested in a student’s success. The apparent lack of personalized investment in your future goals is why you need mentors.
At their best, your mentor will be someone who simplifies the journey you are going through, uses their connections to open new doors, makes phone calls on your behalf, and allows you to see everything in a new and better way. This is why you want a mentor who wants you to succeed and have a vested interest in you. Your mentor should ideally be someone who is chosen by you, someone who you have a connection with, and someone who has the resources and information to guide you in your journey correctly. By selecting someone who has these qualities, you will then end up with someone who will help you make the most of your education, get your through the rough times, show you opportunities and give insight on things you might otherwise have missed, guide your career, and even put you above other people who may be reaching out to them for opportunities.
Your mentor will be your guide, your teacher, and your role model.
How will you find an individual who has these qualities? As Eric Thomas says, “If it was easy, everybody would do it.” This means it will take much effort, initiative, and confidence to not only locate the right person but also to get them to invest in you. Here is how you can do that:
Present Your Best Self…initially
Your first meeting with a potential mentor should set the tone. If they get the right impression of you early, it may lead to them being willing to vouch for you. During your first meeting, here are some key points:
- Dress professionally. Whether they request to meet you at a coffee shop or their office, you need to show that you are serious and you will not waste their time. Remember, you can only make a first impression once.
- Bring a notepad and write down the advice they give you. Use it to create a checklist, and when you follow up via email or face-to-face meetings, reference their previous advice and show that you executed it and discuss the results. Your new mentor will love it and begin to invest in you even more.
- Check-in with your mentor consistently. Whether it is monthly or every other month, a simple email highlighting your progress will prove to be crucial. Do not be discouraged by them not responding immediately. They see your emails, and when you continue to reach out, the response will come.
** Greater Influence Tip: In your first meeting, ask your ideal mentor to be your “adviser.” They are generally busy individuals, so it allows them to see who you are, and it allows you to prove you are worth investing in. Over time, they will take on the mentor role once you show consistency, demonstrate that you are following their advice, and build a relationship with them naturally. **
Select your mentor early in the process so that you can maximize the possible options available for you. The longer you wait, the more likely you will have a mentor who is unlikely to be your first choice or able to help you in the way that you need as a personalized mentor.
In the initial stages, it is crucial for you to convey confidence, as your mentor is likely a highly esteemed individual. You will need to assure them that you are as invested in your own success as they should also be in your success.
You must practice intentionality in the process of selecting a mentor. There are five key qualities that you should look for:
- Clinical or research experience
- Understanding and willingness to work through your insecurities
- Character to act as your personal and professional role model
- Vested interest in helping your success, regardless of what career path you choose to take
**Greater Influence Pro Tips**
- Some students choose mentors based on their position i.e., department chair or residency director. While these individuals are vital to know, they rarely have the time to act as a mentor and may be best served as an adviser. Make sure these individuals know who you are but aim to choose a mentor who is reasonably accessible and still involved with teaching students.
- Your mentor should ideally be in a position that you would like to be in. If you are looking for a clinical position, it would be valuable to have a mentor in that realm so they can give you practical advice on how to navigate the waters. The same goes for those interested in research or research opportunities.
Having more than one mentor can offer you great benefits. They can give you several different perspectives; this can prove to be useful for difficult and critical decisions. It will also increase the likelihood that you will get guidance that pertains to your situation. If you have multiple mentors, one of which may have experience in something others may not. Finally, various mentors can also have different areas of expertise for different development needs you may have. You can have a mentor for career strategy, another one for leadership skills, and so on.
Mentorship Red Flags:
- Mentors with tunnel vision: look for mentors who support you as you are searching for the best career path for your life. Your mentors should help you find what is best for your personality, needs, and abilities. If your mentor shows disrespect to other medical specialties or career choices that do not align with yours, it is in your best interest to find a new mentor who can give you the best and most correct information possible.
- Mentors who want you to be exactly like them: While their investment in you may seem flattering, make sure your mentor knows that you intend to have your own path if that’s what you want. Just remember that people are different. “What is right for one person is almost certainly not to be exactly like someone else.”
- Mentors You Don’t Trust: If you begin to see patterns of qualities that you may not like about your mentor, take note of that. If this individual is someone you want to be like, you need to make sure they uphold the standard for what you need.
All in all, mentorship is critical in this journey. You can most certainly accomplish your goals alone, but this will require unnecessary effort and growing pains. Seek help and watch your growth increase exponentially.