Being a Mentor

I look back over my career and realize something very important. Every patient I cared for, every position I held and every time I had the courage to change my location provided an opportunity for my professional and personal growth. There were painful moments of uncertainty and regret but they gave me strength and determination. It was really the colleagues I worked with that in their small ways lifted me beyond those difficult moments and allowed me to develop my clinical skills.

When I started in academic Family Medicine in 1996, there were so few African-American and Latino educators in Family Medicine. Unfortunately, that is still true but for those of us who are there, we are committed to the next generation. Those pioneers that I met are still paving the way for me and others through their work.  I have been fortunate to have those mentors call upon me to assume leadership roles they have held.  I always say “are you sure?” and they answer “yes”. They show support by just making sure they say “please call me if you have any questions.” Believe me I have so many times.  I value their experience and wisdom.

I am fortunate enough to be mentoring some wonderful African-American women who are so intelligent and full of great ideas to impact our profession. They are medical students about to graduate and residents on their way to starting their careers.  They have a unique prospective because they are first generation medical professionals who come from hard-working families.  They show the same concern I do about the small numbers of underrepresented minorities (URM) in medicine.  They are especially concerned about the low number of URM males.

I was fortunate enough to have one of my mentorees ask me to do a mock interview with her cousin who was having a big interview at a very prestigious medical school. On the day of our call, we went through some questions.  I asked him “why he wanted to go into medicine”.  And he gave me the usual answer.  I found myself telling him, that we have heard that before.  “Tell me who you are and why you should be here?”  He then told me about his family and his personal commitment to be in medicine and care for patients. I was almost in tears as he opened up and shared his family’s struggle. I told him “that is the story you tell.” He is now accepted into that school.  He will have to work hard but they saw in him what I did.  He is a Black male who if provided the opportunity will impact medicine by just being a role model for so many others.

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Each time I am contacted to talk with someone about how to navigate getting into medical school, I am so angered by the misinformation they have received. This goes back to 1996, when I met a young man who with some direction is now a successful medical professional.  I still have the letter that the Dean of his medical school sent informing me they had accepted him. He thanked me for my encouragement and support.

Mentoring is what revives my spirit and renews my hope. Every time I meet with one of my mentees, it is an exchange of ideas and the energy that is palpable. I have had the opportunity to mentor a diverse group of medical students and residents.   I edit articles, give advice on career opportunities or just listen to what is happening in their personal life: the wedding plans, the choice to go into Obstetrics and not family medicine or choose a fellowship.  I do have  a copy of almost every letter I have written.  I enjoy reading each one.  They have gone on to successful careers.  I have pictures of new babies and see journal articles and presentations they are doing. One student is now a successful Urologist.  I remember his interview. If you just looked at the paper, you would have passed him over. He told me his story. At that interview, I saw such potential in him and he proved me right. I have so many of these stories. They all are such bright stars.

There are so many ways you can be a mentor. I want to thank all those who have mentored me and allowed me to be a mentor to them.

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