Author John Maxwell once said, "One of the greatest values of mentors is the ability to see ahead what others cannot see and to help them navigate a course to their destination."
Think for a moment about the mentors who guided you to where you are today. What did they do that impacted your life so greatly that you remembered them just by reading the word mentor?
What words did they say that changed your career?
How did they help you find your passion?
One of my medical school mentors, adapting a popular saying for health care, liked to remind us, "Patients don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."
I believe this is true, and I also think it can be applied to mentoring. Medical students already know our preceptors have more experience and more knowledge than we do. What we really need are preceptors and mentors who will invest time and energy into us, without making us feel like a burden.
This means that meaningful mentorship must go beyond words. The definitions of family medicine and primary care, and the facts about all the procedures that family physicians perform or the diverse patient populations family doctors care for -- those are important details to know, but they are unlikely to ever be the only reasons someone chooses to become a family doctor. The most powerful examples of mentoring are those in which you help a student truly see themselves as the physician.
For instance, one of my mentors helped me to see myself in the specialty of family medicine even before I really knew what it was all about. He took my interests in rural medicine and public health and connected them with the specialty that I would come to know and love. He helped me find my fit in family medicine, which is what I want to help others do. (And I want you to help, too!)
I want other students to know the amazing opportunities that specializing in family medicine would afford them.
There is no end to the possibilities that family medicine has to offer.
The act of learning what students' interests are and then connecting those interests to the aspect of family medicine that best aligns with them is just one step in becoming a great mentor. It is the experiences with family medicine residents and physicians throughout medical school that can alter the perception of our specialty for future generations. By enhancing these experiences, we can advance family medicine to the next level and make sure every graduating medical student knows that for a health care system to function at its best, it must have family medicine as its foundation.
Connecting through shared interests can be an even more powerful way of mentoring "beyond words." For example, last year I was able to make a medical mission trip to the Dominican Republic with a team of family medicine residents and physicians, many of whom I consider mentors. In my future career, I want to care for underserved populations in the United States and around the world, and this trip revealed to me how incredibly valuable family medicine training is, especially in a country with little to no access to health care. I was able to help provide maternity care, pediatric care and geriatric care, all while working with the same family physician. This gave me confidence that my residency training will equip me to return to countries like this in the future to provide medical care to those who need it most.
Another way to get students involved and allow them to see family medicine first-hand is through collaboration. As a new medical student, I had never realized the opportunities for family physicians to participate in education and research to further the academic pursuits of our specialty. However, several of my mentors have included me on research projects and conference presentations, which also demonstrates the great variety of roles family physicians can have in their career.
All these aspects of our specialty are remarkable, and I look forward to integrating this variety of family medicine into my future practice. However, the characteristic of family medicine that, above all, must be shown to students rather than explained to them is the joy that being a family doctor brings. The relationships that family doctors have with their patients, the working environment they create for their staff, the interactions they have with other physicians and other members of the health care team -- all these touchpoints give students a perception of family medicine that can be either positive or negative. There are many factors that go into a student's decision to choose family medicine, but I believe this one has the potential to be the most impactful.
Just as we took a few seconds to reflect back on what our mentors meant to us, now I would like for you to think about how you -- whether a student, resident or practicing physician -- can step into a mentoring role. This can take many forms, from engaging in pipeline work with premedical students to contacting a local medical school and offering to be a preceptor. And if you're already in such a role, how can you make the experience even better? Will you connect students to family medicine through shared interests? Can you identify a student's values and help them find their fit in family medicine? Have you shown a student what it truly means to be a family physician?
With all family medicine students, residents and physicians asking themselves these questions, together we can inspire the current and future generations of family physicians and build the family medicine workforce that our world needs.
Chandler Stisher is the student member of the AAFP Board of Directors.