Pay it forward

Someone do you favor? No thanks needed, pay it forward. Help you out? Pay it forward. Get help when you were struggling? Guess it’s time you paid it forward. But how often do we say yes to an opportunity to help out a colleague or hold out a hand to someone that may need help the most? This phrase is now so commonplace that it flies into one ear and out of the other, just another turn of phrase. How often have we told someone to just pay it forward? How often have we ourselves thought, “Wow, that was so nice of them; I’ll definitely pay it forward.”

Giving help is just as important as receiving and mentoring those that follow in our footsteps is just as important as being mentored. While the focus is always on finding someone that will mentor us, we rarely prioritize mentoring younger colleagues and mentors. I have found mentoring to be extremely rewarding and in its own way, life-altering. In this article, I’m going to tell you the five best things about mentoring that I’ve discovered over the last four years.

#1: You can mentor at any stage.

But I don’t know enough yet. That’s something I hear a lot from young aspiring physicians and medical students. The beautiful thing about mentoring is that you don’t have to know it all, but that you do know enough to guide and answer questions your mentee may have for you. A second year medical student may not be able to answer any questions about applying for residency, but they will be able to answer questions about what study methods work for them, which first year subjects they found the most difficult or how they coped with their medical school transition or managed their time. Mentorship means meeting people where they are, and from where we are, offering a hand, a shoulder and a gentle, guiding voice. 

#2: Mentoring keeps you grounded.

My favorite mentors have always been those that have told me Don’t worry, I remember what that was like! They were the ones that traded war stories, that never belittled or dismissed my fears or concerns. They valued and validated my emotions and feelings and even more importantly, they spoke about their own feelings in trying to help me work through my own. As a post-grad, remembering what medical school was like and how often I desired a guide that would listen or help me in the moments I felt the world falling away not only keeps me grounded but keeps me patient. I remember what it was like to cry after failing an exam. I remember the growing pit in my stomach semester after semester because all I felt was fear that I hadn’t made the cut. I remember what it was like studying until the early hours of the morning only to feel that I did not do my best. There is nothing more humbling than remembering where we came from. 

#3: Teaching is the best way to learn.

Pharmacology was my worst subject in medical school. In fact, it still is something that I struggle with as a post-grad. I distinctly remember my panic when one of my mentees asked me how I got through it and all I could say was: I don’t know! and I proceeded to explain how I studied and how difficult it was for me. As the year went on, they began to have questions about the subject, which in turn led me to brush up on my basics. Fast forward to now and while it’s a subject that I still grapple with on occasion, I would never have been pushed to review and review and review basics had I not had to teach them. And it would have probably taken me far longer to become confident in my knowledge had I not had to tutor multiple mentees about the perils of pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics. Teaching them taught me, too. 

#4: It keeps you current and keeps you on your toes.

As medical graduates, we often become far removed from the world of medical education following our graduation. For me, personally, this is true because I’m an international medical graduate (IMG) and now reside in the United States, half a world away from my beloved alma mater! But continuing my mentoring relationships virtually has helped me to have an understanding of the struggles of the students’ today, their stories help me to understand what online learning in a pandemic is like, their experiences in clinical rotations and clerkship help me to see what it is I could be grappling with when I become a resident and their questions and concerns about their futures and the current situation and current research help me reflect on my own while also ensuring that I continue to be well-read and well-informed. This constant back and forth and exchange of thoughts and information not only keeps me current but keeps me in my continuous learning mindset. I have found this to be invaluable, especially in the time of coronavirus. 

#5: You are shaping the future of your field and your profession.

I may have saved this for last, but in truth, I find this to be the most important part about mentoring. In medicine and in healthcare in general, we often “eat our young.” We are put through rigorous training where we are often treated with little to no courtesy because our field believes in growing thick skins, toughening up the younger generations and that creating doctors hardened from years of being pitted against their insecurities creates good doctors. A good mentor can change that. A mentor can decide that that cycle stops with them and speak from compassion. We can build compassionate, kind and strong doctors. And it is our duty and responsibility to ensure that we have a hand in shaping our future – the future of medicine.

Too often we hear that “medicine is cutthroat” or that “it’s so competitive, it’s brutal” and we forget that it is within our power to change it. Mentoring may not be something you feel you are ready for, but as physicians devoted to a lifetime of service to our patients, it is our duty to ensure that the generations that follow us can look to us as a guide, can see hope in our eyes on the horizon and more importantly, can depend on us to stand up for them so that when their time comes, they stand up for those that follow them. 

So the next time someone asks you a question, pause. Take a deep breath. Let the little doubts that tell you that you may not be enough dissipate. Because while we may not know everything, we do know more than they do now and what we don’t know, we can discover together.

Like this post? Share!