I love Internal Medicine residency training.  I am blessed to be at a fantastic program.  For the past several years, my medical practice – and career – has been molded by attending physicians.  I often sought out the “best” teachers/mentors to help.  Here’s my guide to pinpointing an invaluable teacher-mentor during inpatient and outpatient clinical rotations.  This applies to anyone training in clinical medicine – from nurses to medical students, residents, and beyond.

1.)  Approachability

Friendly and easy to talk to should be keystone elements in a mentor.  Renowned mentor leaders in academic medicine should and – most importantly – can be approachable.  A lot of brilliant people in academic medicine are fantastic physicians, but intimidate students and residents.  Some people argue that to be respected, one must behave in an authoritarian way.  Anecdotally, this is unequivocally false.  Residents prefer to work with attendings who treat them with respect and encourage learning.  This translates into better patient care.  We physicians are here to treat patients.

The average resident does not need to be coddled, but does need a mentor who is easily accessible and responsive.  Approachable means the student or resident can discuss face-to-face/call/text any clinical scenarios and pose questions at will.  This greatly augments real-world learning for the student and resident.  Honestly, it is the #1 most underrated attribute in an attending physician.

2.)  Knowledge

Self-explanatory.  The student or resident physician expects that their mentor be an expert in their field.  Adult wards attending doctors need to impart clinical expertise on their team.  This includes the art of medicine.  There are innumerable instances where a clinical guideline (that any resident can read in a textbook) doesn’t exist or is published on “expert opinion.”  A true mentor will provide timely medical decision making advice to help the student and resident learn.  Finally, when a procedure is indicated, the true mentor will give the resident hands-on experience under a watchful eye.

3.)  Networking

To a certain extent, once you’ve begun residency, your career path will be influenced more so based on who your mentor knows.  Yes, you are expected to be a competent doctor and know how to treat patients.  However, an excellent mentor will help guide his/her student/resident/fellow in a number of ways.  This includes suggesting relevant conferences and events to attend.  One of my mentors helped me attend the ACG/WCOG conference here in Orlando.  Intimidating at first, it turned out to be a really nice experience.  Networking provides a way to help others in medicine become familiar with you, exchange ideas, and advance your career.  I have a tendency towards the introverted side when it comes to professional networking, but am rapidly learning that meeting other like-minded professionals is extraordinarily fulfilling.

4.)  Research Guidance

Although my primary focus as a physician is to care for patients, attention to publishing journal articles is also crucial.  I wouldn’t be in the position I am now without it.  Publishing in print/online journals shows peers you seek relevance in academia and want to expand mankind’s knowledge.  A quality mentor will proactively assist with editing and submitting manuscripts — or find a colleague who will get things done.

Conclusion

  1. Approachability
  2. Knowledge
  3. Networking
  4. Research guidance

The four key items listed above need not be in a single mentor.  One of the most important things I have learned since starting residency is that combining two or three mentors can get one started on the best path to the career of choice.  The rest is up to you.

Keep the faith, and seek out the people who embody the ideals you desire in yourself.