By Janet Young MD

With physician burnout at an all-time high, new emergency medicine providers have an urgent need for guidance and human connection. But honestly, who has time for mentoring in the ED? In these challenging times, it sometimes takes everything we have to focus on our jobs and make it through the day (or night).

If this resonates with you, I understand. Not so long ago, I was working shifts, caring for my children, and barely sleeping. And it was around this time, almost by accident, that I realized mentoring was some of the best self-care available to me.

When I opened myself to mentoring others, I received far more in return. It’s probably fair to say that my mentees have all ended up teaching me things about myself and others I wouldn’t have learned otherwise.

How does this work exactly? I was thinking about it this morning while I wrote a letter of recommendation for a scribe who is applying to medical school. It fuels me to support this bright young person who is so passionate about practicing emergency medicine. It reminds me to come out of the bureaucratic weeds and remember why I chose the ED in the first place.

Mentoring also fuels me by reminding me of the many people who have supported me along my own journey. We physicians tend to be self-reliant types. But when I stop and think, I realize that it took an entire village to get me through medical school, residency, and those early years of practice.

Some of those early “mentors” weren’t necessarily experts in white coats. When I was rotating through a county hospital during medical school, I was so busy I often forgot to eat. One of the custodians — a woman I barely knew — noticed and brought me a Salvadorian tamale. “Remember, we’re all rooting for you,” she told me.

Her simple gesture changed everything for me. Knowing total strangers had my back kept me going through some rough times. Even now, when I start feeling like I don’t have time to care, her memory inspires me to stay open to others in need.

Surrounding yourself with people who empower you can also provide inspiration and energy. I always make a point of having a close circle of colleagues whom I can depend on for advice, consolation, encouragement, or just to share a laugh. I also value mentors who can be brutally honest when necessary. While listening to their feedback takes courage, I could never have grown to the place I am now in my career without it.

So if you’re tired, jaded, frustrated, and craving meaning in your work, consider mentoring as a form of self-care. Realize that everyone around you probably needs a hand up at some point. It may sound impossible when you’re running on empty yourself. But it might be exactly what you need to re-energize your career and rediscover the joy of practicing medicine.

Janet Young, MD, is a Vice President of Operations at Vituity. She practices at Marin General Hospital and John Muir Medical Center – Concord in California.