> Navigating Residency

Finding a Mentor

Part 2 of 2

Kristina Collins

This is the second article in the two-part series about the five cardinal rules of finding a mentor. In part one, I discussed rules one and two: be honest and fearless. Read on to learn points three, four, and five which cover the importance of being open-minded, putting in the effort, and embracing the ‘now.’

Open Mind in Derm

1. Be open-minded.

Sure, you may have made a “future spouse” checklist, but of course you fell in love in some weird, wonderful moment, not while you checked a box. In the same way, most professional breakthroughs occur in “a-ha!” moments, with a passion ignited in what started out to be a normal day. One way I like to think about how to find a mentor is to imagine you are planning your own conference in which all of the “invited speakers” will be presenting topics you find interesting or they are giving advice on personal or professional goals. Which lectures would you most look forward to? Which speakers would you like to meet for dinner or coffee afterward? Follow your intuition and see what side path may instantly become your life plan. My own beloved mentor, Dr. Suzanne Olbricht (also known as Mama Olbricht) said, “Be open to experiences that aren’t in your master plan. Trust the process. Believe in serendipity.” When I first met Dr. Olbricht, any nervousness instantly melted when I caught site of her desk, cluttered with books, papers, pictures, and mementos just like mine. “An organized mess!” we began to proclaim in unison, and just like that, a very special relationship began.

2. Put in the effort.

All relationships take work, including this one. Show up on time for your meetings, educate yourself about your mentor and his or her area of expertise, prepare an agenda, and follow up after the meeting with a thank you email or summary of key points. Between formal meetings, utilize your mentor’s preferred method of communication and save non-urgent issues for the planned meetings. Most people have trouble accepting criticism or making changes, but remember, sometimes this is the most valuable gift a mentor can provide. I recall one afternoon when Dr. Olbricht told me a story about procrastination called “eating the frog” and we had a good laugh about some “frogs” that I needed to eat. We should all be so lucky to receive our criticism from a trusted mentor. Let your mentor guide you. One very effective way to demonstrate your effort and gain the confidence of your mentor is to follow up with them on changes or results a few weeks after they have advised you on a topic.

3. Remember: there is no time like the present

In residency, just as in the rest of your career, remember that today is your only guarantee. I know it sounds crazy right now, but life will definitely not become less hectic after residency. As a resident, you have a unique amount of protected time to learn, study, and immerse yourself in various areas of interest. Seek out many mentors and grow in each experience. You can never try on too many hats! It may be difficult to find time for research or community projects, just like there may never be that perfect time to take that once in a lifetime trip or write that novel. There may never even be a perfect time to fall in love and have kids. But you know what, do it anyway.