In medical school, it is said time and time again by upperclassmen that having a mentor is integral to success as a medical student. Mentors are valuable because they can connect you with opportunities, give advice on career planning and also provide reassurance when you need it. However, when I was a first-year medical student, I had no idea how to get engaged with mentorship opportunities. As an international student, I felt lost and was still adjusting to the United States medical system and medical education. Most importantly, I had no idea what specialty I wanted to pursue and what my future would look like. As a life-planner, this was distressing for me.
Only two months of medical school had passed, and I had already started emailing physicians hoping to get involved in their research and learn more about their specialty interests. Many of the responses I received suggested that I slow down in looking for opportunities so early in medical school and wait until I adjust to the curriculum. However, I had already done three years of research in undergrad, and although none of this research had yet manifested any publications, I was familiar with data collection, management and running studies. However, my curriculum vitae at the time only contained one research experience from college, not reflecting my skills accurately. This was discouraging for me, because I didn’t know how to get involved with faculty who were involved in clinical research.
After a few weeks, I gave up hope on finding a research project and decided that I would try again in the second year of medical school. However, during an emergency disaster training event at our medical school in the fall, I remember that there was a physician who encouraged our group to email him if we were interested in being part of a research project. I quickly took down his name and his email. This email was the catalyst to my journey as a medical student researcher. We’ll name him Dr. K.
I met with Dr. K a couple weeks after this event and he offered a project that he had been thinking of for a while. It was a systematic review. I had never completed a systematic review before, but he was willing to guide me through the process. I made sure to periodically follow up via in-person meetings to keep him updated on the project. We worked together for eight months, and the project was published in the end. I enjoyed doing research with him and asked if there were other projects available that I could work on with him, and eventually, the door to research opportunities slowly opened.
One of the most important things in finding a mentor in research is being able to show that you’re consistent and timely. Many research projects in academia can go on for months or years without being completed, so if you can show commitment to your work, researchers will be more willing to offer new opportunities as they arise. Dr. K introduced me to other researchers on his team and colleagues from other institutions, and I was able to show more people that I could get things done. I’ve been able to build that trust with other researchers during my medical school journey. I’m honored when a mentor of mine emails me to ask if I’m interested in participating in their research project!
Dr. K has been committed to seeing me finish medical school to the end, and he has been so helpful beyond just the research opportunities. A mentor can be someone who you share your challenges with during medical school. Sometimes mentors can get you connected with other physicians in your field of interest. And most importantly, having a mentor that you can share your hopes and fears with is so valuable. He has always been by my side during my highs and my lows. Mentorship in medical school is so important because it can be easy to feel lost navigating the complexities of medicine without someone by your side. Dr. K is the reason that I want a career in academia, and I can’t wait to be a mentor for other medical students if the opportunity arises.
Author’s Note: Dr. K’s name has been kept confidential due to privacy.
Column image courtesy of Neha Deo.
Navigating Different Relationships in Medical School
It can be difficult to balance relationships with medical school — not just a romantic one, but also those with our family and friends. With this column I hope to show a more vulnerable side of the challenges that come with balancing medical school and maintaining our personal relationships. If you are reading this and are feeling the same, just know you are not alone!