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AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 27, Number 3, 2018

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What Works: An Approach to being a Neurosurgery Mentee

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In the field of medicine, proper mentorship is essential to helping students achieve their full potential. This is especially important in smaller, competitive fields like Neurosurgery, as the number of training positions are limited and the expectations for applicants and trainees are high. As a student entering medical school with a strong interest in Neurosurgery, I was fortunate to be surrounded by enthusiastic mentors who have been invested in my success. Over the past four years, there are several lessons I have learned about choosing mentors and being a reliable and productive mentee.

It is helpful to have mentors who are at various stages of their Neurosurgery training. No particular view is necessarily better than the other, but it is important to consider various perspectives in concert to help achieve your goals. Attendings, fellows, residents, and senior medical students can all offer valuable advice, and those that you seek out may change over the course of medical school. As a first-year medical student, as I was still trying to determine if Neurosurgery was the right field for me, I was able to meet with a senior faculty member following a lecture about careers in Neurosurgery who helped connect me with residents and other medical students with similar goals. From this, I learned about people’s unique journeys and what initially attracted them to the field. While attending physicians are instrumental in helping students connect with the right resources and providing a bird’s eye view of what things are important for success, those who are closer to one’s own level of training have more recently gone through the same processes and may have a more immediately relatable perspective. 

As mentees, the onus is often on us to reach out to potential mentors, and there are several things that are important to consider about this process. First, I have found it beneficial to have multiple mentors from whom I have sought advice regarding different aspects of my career. When choosing mentors, I thought: Who has qualities that I wish to emulate? Perhaps there is someone who has been a successful researcher in my field of interest or someone who is known for being an exceptional clinician. When approaching them, it is important to be clear about why you are asking them to be your mentor and what you hope to gain from the relationship. Additionally, it is necessary to remember that mentorship is a skill that people develop over time. Identifying those who have been mentors to other students in the past can help connect you with someone who has a record of successful mentorship and will be more familiar with your needs as a student.

After a connection is established, it is important to be a good mentee to ensure that the relationship is mutually beneficial. We must demonstrate our commitment and integrity to our mentors, while not being afraid to come to them with genuine questions or concerns. Though we may feel pressure to constantly impress our mentors, who are often viewed as the “gatekeepers” to our future success in the field, great mentors value dedication, personal growth, and strength of character as well. Secondly, we must be mindful of our mentors’ time; residents and attendings have numerous responsibilities and it is prudent to be appreciative of the time they spend with us. One of the things for which I have been most grateful is the willingness of these individuals to set aside time in their busy schedules to advise me. When requesting a meeting, I have found it helpful to develop an agenda beforehand to maximize our efficiency. Lastly, it is important to keep your mentors updated on career goals and progress. In this sense, mentees share responsibility with our mentors in driving the relationship, as it is also our job to maintain the connection and initiate communication when we require guidance.

For me, mentorship has been instrumental in my success as a medical student. As someone without any previous contacts in medicine when I first entered medical school, I did not have a solid grasp of the expectations of a future Neurosurgery applicant. Thankfully, I have been surrounded by excellent mentors of all levels of training who have not only told me how to be successful but also helped me to identify excellent research and leadership opportunities. As we move forward, it is important that mentees honor the contributions of their mentors by providing guidance to those who come after us.

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