Friday, July 12, 2013

Blogger Q & A: Advice passed down from our mentors

Every once in a while, we'll invite our bloggers to answer a question that's either been submitted by one of our readers or is something that a fellow blogger has been burning to have answered. Keep reading to find out our responses to the following question: 

What is the best advice you have been given by a mentor?

Callie: 1. When you are a junior resident, always ask your attendings and senior residents for their expectations at the outset and check in with them regularly to identify areas for improvement. As a senior resident, you will be less frustrated with your team if you let them know your expectations in the beginning. 2. Every bit of feedback will have a kernel of truth in it that you can use to improve yourself, no matter how small it is, take it and get better. Throw out the rest and never take it personally. (I admit this is totally easier said than done but I truly try to remember it every time I receive feedback.)

Jane: When you find yourself in a bind, ask yourself "What is best for my patient?" and you will rarely ever be led astray. Seek help when you need it, but treat each patient encounter as if you are your patient's one and only resource. For example, if your patient needs a scan or labs drawn immediately, stay by the patient's side, and make sure that happens! You can't predict when everything will turn out okay or if something will go awry, so never cut corners. Approach each patient systematically, starting with a broad differential diagnosis. Whatever you do, make sure you have good reasons to back it up. Read up regularly on all of your patients, always be honest, and remember that a little kindness and tact can go a long way.

Lauren: Be fearless. When given the opportunity, talk to everyone and anyone you can. You never know what value the connections you make now may have later on. This way, when you get to the point in your career when you are applying for fellowship or a job, everyone will already know who you are and you will be the obvious candidate for the position.

Minerva: Stay balanced. This is one piece of advice that has come in one way or another from multiple mentors both in and out of medicine/surgery. The truth is that staying balanced requires a lot of insight into yourself and the career we have chosen. Realizing that surgery can consume you 24/7 if you let it is one of the best ways to protect your personal life. The multiple key points to remember range from finding one thing daily that I can do for myself, to keeping up with one hobby, making time for family and loved ones, or just having something to help blow stress away. Ultimately an unhappy surgeon can make others around him/her just as miserable!

Sophia: “Focus on learning, not performance.” As a medical student, it can be easy to feel that you are constantly being scrutinized and evaluated. A mentor once told me to focus on learning instead of performance, meaning that I should act in ways that maximize my own growth rather than minimizing looking stupid. I felt liberated to ask questions that might seem too basic, and it made it easier to ask my superiors for feedback, help, and guidance. Focusing on growth also gave me a more positive attitude towards work: rather than thinking of tasks or notes as chores, I viewed them as opportunities to get better and learn something. I volunteered to take on more responsibilities as a way to learn more. Of course I made mistakes along the way, but instead of feeling like failures, mistakes felt like chances to learn how not to do something or a chance to try something again. Even though it is still difficult to hear criticism, I now make a conscious effort to change and demonstrate that I am responsive to negative feedback. What is so great about this advice is that in the end, my performance actually does improve as I focus on learning because I am constantly striving to increase my abilities and knowledge.

Do you agree with the advice that we've been given? What are some tidbits handed down to you by your mentors that you'd like to add? What questions would you like for our bloggers to address in a similar fashion in the future?


  1. I recently re-connected with my mentor from med school after I met someone who is good friends with him. In our email exchange, he made a comment that, I realized, is exactly what I picked up from him almost 20 years ago now since he is also a surgeon + educator:
    "As much as I love to operate, I think teaching students and residents has actually been even more rewarding. If I influenced you in any little way, then every time you take care of a patient I have a little ownership and it multiplies my own efforts."

    While my passion for education and mentoring is my own, it's clear to me that I had an amazing example in front of me during my most impressionable years.

    1. What a lovely remark by your mentor! I imagine that medical and surgical education is especially rewarding (for mentors who leave lasting impressions), in large part because guidelines and treatments are constantly evolving and often multiple methods exist to produce the same result.

      Thanks for sharing!

  2. The most useful advice I received from a surgeon was to be curious! It certainly wasn't the first time I had heard it. Since grade school, mentors have encouraged my curiosity and the result thus far has been an interesting and fulfilled life.