The Importance of Mentorship

One of the most influential and uplifting things that can happen during medical school is finding someone older, wiser, and more mature than you and being blessed with the opportunity to be mentored by that person.

“I don’t think I can do this anymore.” As the words left my lips, I felt a slight twinge, a burning feeling. Shame. I was one month into medical school and I was already giving up. We were in a 7-week crash-course version of anatomy with lectures, Team Based Learning (TBL) sessions, and dissection in an overwhelming whirl that spun us ever more rapidly as the course progressed.  I wasn’t made to memorize the flexors and extensors of the leg and the nerves and vessels of the pelvis.  My brain wasn’t wired to take in this much information and properly spit it all back out. If this was medicine, I didn’t think it was for me.

There was a moment of silence on the other line. I sniffed and blew my nose. Dr. R finally spoke.

“Stephanie, tell me more about what you’ve been thinking about.”

Over the next half-hour, I shared with Dr. R my frustrations with the rote memorization of anatomy and the feelings of burn-out I was already experiencing, having come straight from college to medical school. She was patient and understanding, encouraging me with her own experiences. She acknowledged my perspective and in her gentle way, validated it. Suddenly, I did not feel so alone. To my surprise, I found myself filling with hope that I could find success in medical school. I wiped away my tears and ventured a small smile as she made me promise to update her in the next few weeks. When I hung up the phone, I glanced at the time— it was nearly 10:00pm. I had texted Dr. R that I hoped to talk to her sometime soon about something urgent, and she had texted me back immediately. I was so grateful that she didn’t hesitate to approach me during my moment of panic and self-doubt.

 If medical school is a marathon, then having a good mentor in medical school is like having a personal coach. He/she is on the sidewalks, cheering you on, letting you know about the hill up ahead, and reminding you of your goals during the long, empty stretches of road. You look over your shoulder and at times notice that your mentor is covered in sweat and dirt and Gatorade too. In fact, your mentor has another race, but he/she is taking time off to watch you run. From sharing about previous mistakes to being an example for how to run a race successfully, your personal coach and mentor becomes a role model throughout your marathon and beyond. 


How did I meet Dr. R?  In fact, I was assigned to Dr. R’s mentoring group on the very first day of medical school.  As part of the Colleges program at Johns Hopkins, the mentoring group (known fondly as a “molecule”) is composed of one faculty member and five medical students in the same year.  The faculty member checks in with his/her molecule throughout their four years of medical school and provides guidance, assists with planning, and teaches clinical skills. Dr. R has walked with me through both personal and professional issues—from work-life balance to dealing with poor study habits to encouraging me to embrace my passions.  Moreover, I was absolutely touched that she managed to make it out to my wedding last summer.  In inviting me to shadow her in the hospital to having my molecule over at her house to meet her husband and children, Dr. R has generously opened her life up as an example of how one might pursue a career in medicine.  In doing so, she has become a true life mentor to me.

It is well-known that medical school isn’t easy. Thus, having a guide and avid supporter is invaluable. Mentoring programs are becoming more common nationally, as research has found that having mentorship is an important component of success in academic medicine (Cho et al, 2011). However, the importance of seeking mentorship from the start of medical school isn’t always properly emphasized. Do you currently have an influential mentor? In what ways have he/she supported you? How would you define a “good mentor”?

If you don’t yet have a mentor or your current mentoring relationship isn’t going as you hoped, not to worry! In my next blogpost, I will share some suggestions about how to get started with finding a mentor as well as how to make the most of a mentoring relationship.


Coming up…

“How to Approach a Potential Mentor and Get the Most out of a Mentoring Relationship”

Featured image:
Friends by Hartwig HKD

Stephanie Wang Zuo

Stephanie Wang Zuo is a member of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Class of 2017. She hails from Long Island, NY and completed her bachelor's degree in Chemical and Physical Biology at Harvard College. She took so many English classes though, that she found herself minoring in English. In her spare time, Stephanie can be found at the yoga studio, reading a novel or book of poetry, cooking, or spending time with her husband. She will never say no to a game of Ultimate Frisbee and is always finding excuses to go outside and "enjoy the nice weather." One of her greatest pleasures is resting in the sound and subtle meanings of words. "If you become a writer you'll be trying to describe the 'thing' all your life: and lucky if, out of dozens of books, one or two sentences, just for a moment, come near to getting it across." (C.S. Lewis)

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