The Importance of Mentoring

January 5, 2011

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By Adrienne Foley

When asked how he chose the field of neurology, Jonathan Hosey, MD, a neurologist on staff at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa., credits his former medical school chairperson, Elliott Mancall, MD, chair of neurology at Hahnemann School of Medicine in Philadelphia, with influencing his decision. "There were so many things that drew me to him—his approach to patients, his kindness and he was a great teacher," says Dr. Hosey. "His mentorship is what led me to focus on neurology."

Mentors are usually neurology faculty members (clinical or research) who can give advice and guide you on your path towards becoming a neurologist. Twenty years later, Dr. Hosey is not only still in contact with his now-retired mentor, but also helps guide up-and-coming neurologists through their medical education and post-graduate training.

"The pedigree of teachers is very strong in our field," says Dr. Hosey. "Many neurologists are natural teachers because of the need to explain and teach our patients."

James Stevens, MD, a neurologist with Fort Wayne Neurological Center in Fort Wayne, Ind., also supports mentoring. "I think learning from a mentor is a critical part in the education process," he says. "If you can be in the physical presence of someone and learn from their years of experience, it can be very valuable. You benefit from the immediate feedback, their nuances, and how they conduct themselves."

Both agree that neurology has a strong mentorship philosophy by nature of the need to explain and teach patients. Mentoring is helpful as early as medical school and critical during residency training. However, learning from others can continue beyond medical training.

"There are formal and informal types of mentoring," says Dr. Stevens. "Formal mentoring takes place with the help of your neurology rotation coordinator. Informal mentoring occurs when someone shadows you through your workday. For instance, I have one new associate who has asked to shadow or follow me through my day."

Finding A Mentor

Dr. Hosey says that oftentimes the mentor relationship will evolve naturally. "I suggest doing a clinical courtship and see who you're drawn to," he says. Many medical schools have a neurology rotation coordinator who can pair you with someone. Or, you can approach the residency director to talk about field and how to go forward from there.

When you find someone you'd like to mentor you, explain to that person why you selected him or and how you would like the person to help you. From there, ask the person to mentor you or to help you find another mentor. If the person should turn you down, don't take it personally. He or she likely has time constraints that may prevent their helping you at this time. If the person agrees to mentor you, set up goals and objectives, regular meetings, time commitment and other parameters that will provide some expectations for the mentorship.

Tips for Successful Mentorships

Drs. Hosey and Stevens offer the following tips for finding a mentor who's right for you.

  • Expose yourself early on by doing an active rotation during medical school or residency.
  • Meet regularly with your mentor.
  • Bring a healthy curiosity and ask questions.
  • Dedicate the time to spend with your mentor. For instance, Dr. Stevens says, offer to go on night call with your mentor. "Spending that extra time pays off in the long run," he says.
  • Have well understood goals and objectives and be willing to adjust those goals and objectives as needed.
  • Keep observing.

And whether you're a medical student just starting out, or are years into your neurology practice, Dr. Stevens says any time in your career is a good time for mentorships. "I recently had a mentor I met through the American Academy of Neurology," he says. "I was able to observe him make some tough decisions and learn from him."