Overcoming Lack of Experience with Wisdom

By | November 4, 2014

Scrubs - mentorship

I want to share with you one of the commonly overlooked ingredients for success in medical school and really, in any venture. 

As I entered my 4th year of medical school, I setup my first rotation with a Neurologist as I was on the fence between Neurology or Dermatology (quite different from one another). I had already used my only 3rd year elective to rotate with a neurologist in Kansas City. Since I really enjoyed neuroscience and had the highest score on that section as an MSII, I had assumed that was good enough reason to use a precious 4th year elective doing the same.

I am impressed on day one – a world famous Spine Center.  I had stepped into the big leagues.  I meet the attending who was a Neurologist by residency and fellowship training. Of course, within the first few minutes I describe how much I loved neurology. After some small talk, he admitted that he “was a neurologist” until he realized it sucked. “Plus you’re not wearing a bow-tie and are not prematurely balding” he added. He relayed to me that he practiced a number of years as a Neurologist and then he fortuitously came across a PM&R Interventional Pain Fellowship that changed his life and opened his eyes.

After we had spent some time getting to know each other, he was very blunt and told me “You can do neurology, but you won’t be happy.” I was a little surprised. But he would know, right? After all, he had the real life experience –neurology residency, two fellowships, and a number of years in a nationally renowned hospital.

In retrospect, I should not have been surprised. This attending was like almost all other physicians when it comes to opinions – he wanted to make his known.  In this case, I really appreciated it. He suggested that I check out Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and had me work with a few of his colleagues during my rotation. But he didn’t completely crush my previous aspirations; he actually contacted some programs in Neurology on my behalf to give them the heads up about me and my abilities.  

His influence, opinions, and brutal honesty were extremely helpful and I credit him with helping me make one of the best and most important decisions. He became the first of many mentors.

Do you have a mentor? Someone who will tell you how things really are.  

During medical school, there are very  limited resources for learning the things about medical specialties, residency, and  business. This is the stuff that only mentors can share. I had a lot of academics pushing me one way and then the other, but the people giving advice were sheltered or far removed from the outside world. And even more importantly, they lacked the charisma to effect positive change in my life.

Thankfully I was able to meet this individual at a crucial time in my life.  What if he didn’t show up? Where would I be now? 

At the last minute, I finally had somebody take me by the hand and be concerned about what I wanted for my life, my long-term goals, and direct me based on their experience.  We all need to hear the stories from those that have been in the trenches to really get an idea of what we are committing to.