I was recently speaking with a friend and former colleague regarding the challenges of mentoring, the mentor-mentee relationship, and how one begins said relationships. I have always been curious at how one chooses a mentor. Does it always have to be work-related? Does the mentor choose the mentee or vice-versa? How easy is it to develop a mentor-mentee relationship and how long does that relationship last? Do these relationships bring equal value if forced as they would if by natural design?
It seems to me that sometimes the constraint exists at the ask and response level due to unknown expectations and or fears both by the mentor and mentee. In reflecting on the topic of mentoring, I recognize that one’s input should not be underestimated. No matter where one is in their career, advocacy, or leisure trajectory one can be a mentor. Mentoring can be topic related to career path, passion project, advocacy, or work-life balance with focus on skills sets.
Four years ago, I was asked by a nonprofit if I would consider mentoring a young woman early in her nursing career. Neither one of us knew what this would mean, require, nor what this would become. Our mutual connection was medicine and we started there. We have invested in bi-monthly lunchtimes to review where we are in our careers and lives currently and where we can see ourselves in the future. Ours is a two-way street. Never would I have guessed the challenges faced by a young nursing student who is bi-lingual in English and Spanish as she tried to find a hospital job, only to be offered positions in nursing homes. What I considered a valuable asset to any organization, sat in front of me wondering why no hospital system would hire her. The answers included: no previous connection to the hospital system and no experience outside of nursing school. With time and experience, she ventured out again to the hospital systems looking for employment, was pleased to be accepted only to be faced with the challenges of the medical industrial complex. The medical industrial complex and the business of medicine became our next topics with the dusting of “how much are you putting into your retirement vehicle” and “you really sound like you want a wedding despite family pressure, perhaps we should try on some dresses.” The reciprocity included check-ins on my mother’s colon cancer diagnosis, evaluation, surgical management and complications.
Mentoring relationships start with a mutual connection. While some use their colleagues and direct supervisors as mentors, others may feel awkward about revealing honestly their desires/hesitation for the future. The MassAFP provides a social space both in the Spring Refresher, as well as the Legislative, Wellness, and Leadership Committees. Recent examples of how action can lead to new opportunities can be seen with Dr. Hannah Biederman’s guest message on public health last month and our new member Dr. Manju Mahajan who has joined our wellness committee. Dr. Mahajan and I were to have spent the afternoon exploring Cambridge, when our plans were pleasantly interrupted with legislative meetings. Rather than shy away and reschedule, Dr. Mahajan presented with me in front of the legislative aides of Senator Comerford and Collins, as well as spending time with Representative Santiago who is also a practicing Emergency Medicine physician at Boston Medical Center. Similarly, our President-elect Dr. Michele Parker provided testimony on the Governor’s health care bill in front of the Public Health Commission on January 28. As for our leadership committee activities, we are looking to start a book club with meet-ups on leadership. If you are interested in getting connected with someone on advocacy, wellness or leadership, please feel free to contact me and I will direct you to the right group and person.
Jennifer Sparks, MD, FAAFP