It was the beginning of the year, many months before the FIX17 conference, when a mentor of ours emailed to encourage us to apply to speak at this inaugural FemInEM conference. New York was half a world away, and the idea that we would actually get accepted seemed remote. Nonetheless we figured we had nothing to lose – so we submitted an application. This simple email from an Emergency Physician and mentor of ours resulted in one of the most amazing experiences of our professional lives so far. While we don’t have a huge amount of clinical experience, what we did have was good mentors. So we decided to put our effort into working out what makes a good mentor and a good mentee.
But why is mentorship so important? For those who have achieved high levels of career success, having quality mentorship is often cited as a critical contributor. Mentors can give you specific advice, can help with networking and career development, and can be a support at time of personal or professional hardship. Being a mentor also has its benefits. Not only is there the sense of reward that comes with ‘paying it forward’, but it can motivate us to keep up to date and look at issues from different points of view.
To get the most of mentorship we came up with 5 golden rules – here they are:
Have you ever had to do something that absolutely terrified you? Maybe it was your first cannula, your first referral over the phone or your first resuscitation. While these things may have terrified us, we did them because it was just simply expected of us. When someone believes in you so much that they expect you to be great, it’s much easier to take that leap of faith yourself. Being courageous is not something women are necessarily expected to be, but it is an essential requirement for progressing in our careers. Men are encouraged to be bold, brave and confident – we all know what the phrase “be a man” implies – so it is especially important that as female physicians we have someone in our corner pushing us to face our fears.
Be a Sponsor
While the guidance and advice mentors offer is useful, the value of a sponsor is ten fold. If you believe in someone’s potential, be their faculty champion. Sponsorship doesn’t just come in the form of formal references, and is not all about networking. A sponsor may amplify their mentee’s achievement in a meeting or echo them to their colleagues. They may retweet them, credit them, put in a good word with someone who can give them an opportunity. Sponsorship can have a rippling effect. Small amplifications can lead to big opportunities.
Burn-out is real and a common occurrence in our demanding line of work. It is a result of long-term, unresolvable pressures of the job and can be recognised by extreme exhaustion as well as physical symptoms such as headaches and sleeplessness, irritability and closed thinking. Having a supportive mentor, someone who can share the burden of this gruelling job, is vital in preventing excessive stress and ultimately allows us to focus on our goal – to do what’s best for the patient. For this to work there needs to be openness and honesty between the mentor and mentee. It’s important to not just portray our successes; being able to portray failures, vulnerabilities and shortcoming is how the mentor and mentee can truly support each other.
Prioritise and be prepared to say no
It can be extremely easy to find yourself with one mentor whom you look up to for everything. However fitting this mentor is, you don’t want to end up as their ‘mini-me’ or their carbon copy. Set out clearly in your mind (or on paper) what you want in the short and long term, then create a ‘board of personnel directors’ to help you do that. Different people will diversify your skills and give you a broader base from which you can progress your career. If a mentor suggests a project that does not align with your goals, don’t feel you are obliged. Being a ‘yes’ person only leads to half finished projects, and worse can leave both parties feeling resentful.
Deserve a Mentor
Have you ever been randomly paired up with someone in a mentorship program and had it not last more than a few months? Unfortunately, mentorship cannot be forced and as such these third party pairings rarely work. Relationships, even professional ones, stem out of real and earned connection. This means that asking a total stranger ‘will you be my mentor’ is also a recipe for a short lived affiliation. Do some groundwork – get to know you mentor and let them get to know you. Instead of asking a stranger ‘will you be my mentor’, ask them a thoughtful question or ask them to give you feedback. Those you work well with will become apparent. It is also important to remember that mentors are drawn to those they think will grow. Begin to show off your ‘potential’. Put your foot in their door and look like you want to grow – show that you deserve a mentor. Mentorship and sponsorship come hand in hand and are vital for our career development. As junior doctors we have experienced the effects of this first hand. We were given an opportunity to travel across the world, meet successful and inspirational women, and attend an empowering conference in New York City. We encourage all health professionals reading this to seek out passionate individuals across professional tribes and departments and find mentors and mentees who will ultimately make you a better doctor.
 Geraci, Stephen A. et al. A Review of Mentoring in Academic Medicine The American Journal of the Medical Sciences , Volume 353 , Issue 2 , 151 – 157
Watch the full FIX17 talk below!