One of the main benefits of being a trainee is that you get to see how other physicians act behind the scenes. You get to learn who you want to emulate. And often, trainees can end up as an amalgam of the mentors they choose. Let’s discuss how to grow relationships with mentors, as well as how mentors can benefit not only your training, but also your wellness and your ability to overcome obstacles in difficult times.
Ask Good Questions
It’s impossible to identify the value of your network until you need it. Asking questions and developing relationships with potential mentors early on is going to show its value quickly.
Approach potential mentors with thoughtful questions. It’s important to show that you did some level of research before asking another more-senior person for help. This shows your dedication to the answer and that you care about your mentor’s time. Respect garners respect, in turn.
Ask With a Solution in Mind
Problems need solutions. But most problems in life worth discussing don’t have real “right” or “wrong” answers. This is why we talk things out — to come to terms with the best, but still imperfect, solution or to allow others space to offer their perspectives.
When you approach a mentor with a problem and a potential solution, you get an opportunity to show him/her your level of understanding and determination in solving the issue. It can also jog the discussion and help the mentor offer his/her own perspective(s).
Ask With Both Ears Open
We live in a life full of distractions. When you approach a mentor, remember to listen with your full attention.
Even if you really think you already have the best answer, remember to listen. Not only is it cathartic, but you are almost guaranteed to learn something new from a valued person in your life.
Even though social media is a ubiquitous part of our communication culture, the strongest relationships are ones that feature dedication, not distractions. If you want to strengthen a bond with your mentor, make time away from emails, texts and posts. These more intimate, in-person moments of communication will also remind you how to focus on challenging tasks that demand creative thinking.
Ask for What You Need
“You don’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes … you get what you need.” — Rolling Stones
Life as a resident can be stressful. But the good news is that mentors often know exactly what you are going through, having gone through it themselves. And if the last year has taught us anything, it’s that people need each other. Of course, it’s important to work hard, be a patient advocate and remain driven in your training, but don’t be afraid to lean on mentors when needed. You may be surprised how your trust in your mentor can result in reciprocation.
In the end, remain mindful about your experience and remember to include your co-residents in building supportive relationships. Strong bonds endure and can enrich the rewards of your time in training and throughout a lifelong career in ophthalmology.
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James G. Chelnis, MD,
is an oculoplastics surgeon in private practice in New York, N.Y.