November 24, 2015
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“Medical school is a great anti-mentorship program. You meet a lot of doctors you’d never want to become.” That’s what med students keep telling me.
Mentorless medical students?
I had no idea. Until students started shadowing me. Many also volunteer at hospice and free clinics. I asked one gal, “You must meet a lot of wonderful doctors there. Right?”
“Not really,” she said, “Doctors are on automatic pilot as they try to navigate through a staggeringly high volume of patients. It’s so disheartening. And what’s worse, everyone I speak with says, ‘That’s just the way it is. It is too expensive, difficult, and risky to go into private practice anymore. You can’t be a solo doctor in this day and age.’ After meeting you, I know there is another way.”
“You haven’t worked with solo docs?”
“No. I haven’t met anyone else who has escaped our broken system to practice medicine as it should be practiced—on a personal and human level. I was worried that I was having childish delusions of grandeur by thinking I could actually practice medicine in such a way in today’s climate. I worried I’d go through med school and residency only to find that in the end there was no refuge from our inhumane health care system. I’m here because there are no tools or mentors to help me be the doctor I’d like to be.”
Medicine is an apprenticeship profession. We learn by watching doctors around us. Sadly, many aren’t happy. Most docs I meet have been victimized for years. Many think they’ve got “burnout,” but physician burnout is really physician abuse. Hint: No amount of deep breathing, meditation, yoga, resilience training will make your crappy assembly-line job joyful. Cut your losses, get a real mentor, and move on.
So how do you find a mentor?
Look for doctors who are doing what you want to be doing and hang out with them—now! If you want to be a happy doctor treating real patients, your mentor should be a happy doctor who is treating real patients. If you take business advice from cynical doctors who are depressed—you’ll be getting career advice from depressed cynics, if that’s what you want. Warning: if they’re not happy successful doctors seeing real live patients, how can they help you become a happy REAL doctor?
How do you know if you’ve got the right mentor?
The right mentors are practicing medicine the way you want to practice medicine. Beware: there are many physician gurus, authors, speakers and burnout specialists out there who are no longer practicing medicine—because they “burned out.” Would you choose a divorced marriage therapist who has never had a successful marriage? Avoid advice from people who have never done what you plan to do.
Pamela Wible, M.D., founded the Ideal Medical Care Movement. She has been awarded the 2015 Women Leader in Medicine by the American Medical Student Association for her inspiring contributions to medicine. Need a mentor? Contact me. I can hook you up.