NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.—What do Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, and Frodo Baggins have in common?
Vineet Arora, MD, MAPP, SFHM, said each of the big screen superstars had a great mentor. Dr. Arora’s HM15 session, “Making the Most of Your Mentoring Relationships,” looked at the qualities young hospitalists should seek out in a mentor. She also outlined skills and behaviors mentees should look to improve in themselves, in terms of connecting with a mentor and building relationships.
“You need to know yourself, your goals, your priorities,” said Dr. Arora, associate professor of medicine, assistant dean for scholarship and discovery, and director of the GME clinical learning environment innovation at the University of Chicago. “Mentorship is a partnership. If your mentor is always busy and traveling, and you need a lot of hand holding, that is not a great fit.”
Dr. Arora’s pep talk was part of a new educational track focused on young hospitalists that debuted at this year’s annual meeting. The track, coordinated by members of SHM’s Physicians in Training Committee, also included sessions on “How to Stand Out: Being the Best Applicant You Can Be,” “Getting to the Top of the Pile: Writing Your CV,” and “Quality and Safety for Residents and Students.”
The majority of the 100 or so in attendance at Dr. Arora’s talk were residents and academic hospitalists in the first few years of their career, but the crowd also included a few fellows and a handful of program directors.
You Need a Hero
Using video clips featuring three of the most popular fictional characters of all time, Dr. Arora outlined some of the key characteristics young physicians should look for in mentors.
Yoda, for example, provided inspiration in “The Empire Strikes Back” by showing young Skywalker the impossible is possible. Yoda, the 500-year-old mentor, “used the force” to lift Skywalker’s X-Wing Fighter from the swamp. “He showed him that ‘this is doable,’” said Dr. Arora, a self-proclaimed movie buff. “That’s really half the battle, and it’s something you really want to think about.”
In a scene from “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” veteran wizard Remus Lupin comforts the young sorcerer when he struggles to learn a new spell, the powerful Patronus charm. “I didn’t expect you to do it the first time,” Lupin told Potter. “That would have been remarkable.”
The teaching moment, Dr. Arora said, was that it is “OK to fail” and that good mentors are “going to pick you back up and help you.”
Mentors’ words—and how they say them—are important, too. At the end of the first “The Lord of the Rings” movie, little Frodo stood at the shore of a lake wondering if he could continue on his journey—“I wish the ring had never come to me; I wish none of this had happened,” he said. The next scene showed Frodo recalling the encouraging words of his friend and mentor, Gandalf: “So do all who have lived to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All you will have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you.”
“You thought your quality improvement project was bad? Talk to Frodo!” Dr. Arora quipped. “Support, empathy, easing the pain; these are very different mentoring functions than the technical quality of doing a project, or being capable.”
Comparing mentors to superheroes utilizing the acronym CAPE, Dr. Arora boiled it down to the qualities mentees should look for in their mentors:
- Capable: “If the mentor is not capable, they are not going to be a good mentor,” she said. “This is important; not everyone is capable of being a good mentor.”
- Available: “It’s easy to walk away from a project. A good mentor stays with you, show you how it works, and inspires you to work harder.”
- Project (or Passion): “You want to have a mentor who is going to teach you something you are interested in; otherwise you are not going to want to learn, and there is no inspiration.”
- Empathetic: “They must be empathetic, easy to get along with, able to ease the pain.”
Dr. Arora and her colleague, Valerie Press, MD, MPH, role-played a number of scenarios in which young hospitalists and trainees err in their relationships with mentors. These ranged from the dreaded “pop-in meeting” to e-mail etiquette to last-minute requests to review a CV or poster.
The scenarios rang true with Brandon Mauldin, MD, a third-year resident at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans.
“I learned the errors of how I’ve approached my mentors in the past. I think I have been guilty of every one of the points she made,” said Dr. Mauldin, who attended the session to glean tips as he prepares for a career as an academic hospitalist. “Maybe not as much the drop-in meetings, but definitely the last-minute, ‘Hey, I have this poster due tomorrow. Can you help me edit it?’”
Dr. Mauldin’s mentor at Tulane, Deepa Bhatnagar, MD, also attended the session. In her fourth year as an academic hospitalist, Dr. Bhatnagar said she gleaned the most practical information from Dr. Arora’s final scenario, which focused on mentees doing their homework before selecting a mentor or joining a research project.
“Do not sign on the dotted line without consultation. Right? Do not buy a car without doing your homework,” Dr. Arora said. “Mentors want free labor, so beware.”
Dr. Arora said mentees should set reasonable expectations and focus broadly in selecting projects, as they “have their whole career to do the project you love; right now, do the project that works.” It was a tip that stuck.
“The successful project is a good takeaway: Find your interest, find a good mentor, but find a good project,” Dr. Bhatnagar said. “It’s better to zone in on a successful project, instead of taking on a project that might not be successful for you.”
Richard Quinn is a freelance writer in New Jersey.