Have You Picked Your Mentor’s Brain Lately?

It’s funny how people meet – some are coordinated efforts at work or meetings while others are random. I met one of my mentors – Dr. Jane Freedman – in the outpatient echo lab. We had never met prior to my fellowship but I recognized her name from the echo reports of my patients. After introducing myself to Jane, I fired all sorts of questions her way – mostly about restaurants in Boston we both enjoy, things we do in our free time, how to get involved in the AHA, and how best to read echocardiograms. This sparked not only a great friendship but an even better mentorship.

Jane has become my work-life-balance mentor, advising me on how to be an effective chief fellow, developing my own leadership style, types of jobs to pursue, and balancing personal life with the intense time commitment of medicine. I soon realized in order for me to be a good mentee, I had to support my mentor when I could. This included, attending her talk at the AHA not out of a feeling of obligation but out of a genuine desire to support my mentor. Over time, our mentor-mentee relationship has taken on more academic facets – largely, honing in the on the type of job I would want in the future. Jane has pushed me to clarify the type of job I want to pursue and more importantly, what are the reasons for wanting it.

mentorOver the course of my training, I realized that not all of my colleagues have mentors to turn to for these critical career conversations. It made wonder how mentors can help fellows in training, and more importantly, what are the key elements to a successful mentor-mentee relationship. To understand what made our mentor-mentee relationship successful, I asked Jane at a recent dinner at one of the many great restaurants we wanted to try.

In her experience, a successful mentor-mentee relationship comes down to be receptive as a mentor and mentee. You have to have the self-awareness of the relationship to provide support for those seeking it.  In addition, the relationship has to be symbiotic. The mentor has to give advice to the mentee based on the level he or she is at. For example, the chair of cardiology may not be a good mentor to a first-year fellow if he or she is not able to give the appropriate support needed for the fellow at that specific stage of training. Conversely, the mentee needs to work hard towards the goals and expectations he or she has set for this to be a successful relationship. This made me think: how do we go about even choosing the ‘right’ mentor??

Jane highlighted that everyone needs more than one mentor. For example, an academic mentor to help me pursue research opportunities, a clinical mentor who helps cultivate knowledge in my area of interest, and even a work-life mentor that I can turn to when this demanding job seems undoable. Every mentor offers something unique to the relationship and more importantly, not one mentor will be able to give you everything you need. Jane stressed that she never stopped at one mentor but sought those that will help her become successful in all aspects of her life and career.

Jane explained that while she was training she reflected on what would improve her work-life balance. There were only so many things she could accomplish in a day and had to recognize where she needed help. For example, with the various apps to help improve efficacy, I could order groceries to be delivered to our home. The time saved at the grocery story can be spent with my significant other or at the gym. Something Jane stressed – which I took to heart – was to never feel guilty for not being able to do it all. People who go into health care are incredibly driven but we all have our limits. It’s important to recognize these limits to prevent burnout, enjoy our work, and continue to work on achieving a balanced life.

A piece of advice Jane gave me is to make sure I pick a career path that will make me happy, not the one I think I should take. With the extensive amount of board certifications in cardiology, fellows feel pressured to take them even if they do not want to. Again, this comes back to a point Jane highlighted earlier – we need self-awareness to be successful.

As dinner started to wind down, I was able to reflect on how I was performing as a mentee and what steps I can take in the future to make our relationship more successful. Checking in with my mentors always brings about new found motivation and energy to continue to strive for success.