In Homer’s Odyssey, Athena, the goddess of wisdom, disguises herself as a Mentor — an old friend of Odysseus — and accompanies Odysseus’ son, Telemachus, in his own journey beyond the kingdom of Ithaca.
Similarly, drawing on the wisdom of mentors will help you to streamline your path to medical school. Here are some different types of mentors and how they can help you on your journey.
Premed advisors. Premed advisors are professionals who can help navigate the process of figuring out your fit for a medical career, scheduling your courses, checking off medical school pre-requisites, and applying to medical schools. They know what works and what doesn’t.
Meeting with your with your pre-med advisor early and often will allow you to plan out your academic trajectory and gain feedback on your college progress. Moreover, premed advisors are equipped with a treasure trove institution-specific information, such as the success rate of their applicants and the admissions profile of graduates who secure a spot in medical school. They can tell you whether you are making steady progress or veering off-course. For struggling students, premed advisors can provide suggestions for improvement or a vital reality check to encourage students to consider a Plan B.
Academic mentors. Some of your academic mentors may be assigned by your university, others you may encounter organically in your courses. Regardless of how you meet them, academic mentors are teachers who are invested in your academic growth.
Interaction with your academic mentor as a pre-med student may be different from that of students interested in Ph.D. programs because you likely won’t be following in your mentor’s footsteps. Although academic mentors may not be able to direct you personally in your premed path, they can help you to take charge of your learning in college by offering advice on major planning and improving your academic performance in their courses.
Furthermore, cultivating a professional relationship with instructors who can vouch for your academic strength, talk about you on a personal level and write about your desire to go into medicine will ensure a memorable and robust recommendation letter for the medical school admissions committee, regardless of your mentor’s academic field.
You can get to know your professors by going to office hours, asking thoughtful questions during class, and actively engaging with the material. In an email, Richard Trimble, a third-year medical student at Stanford University School of Medicine, describes mentorship as a two-way street. “Ask your instructors and mentors about their lives, careers, and research,” he says. “You will find that instructors take a more personal role in guiding your career if they know you as a person.”
Physician mentors. Physicians are the best mentors to help to figure out your fit a career in medicine. Physician mentors can give you a glimpse into the realities of practicing medicine in a way that your premed or academic mentors cannot. Furthermore, working with physicians will expose you to the vast array of specialties that will help you to make a decision regarding residency later in your medical school career.
Unfortunately, most clinicians are busy with patient care, administrative work or medical student education so they may not have the time or the desire to advise pre-med students. You can maximize your chance of finding a physician mentor by engaging in shadowing or volunteering opportunities that will allow you to work regularly with the same physician. You can also ask your pre-med advisor for a list of alumni or local physicians who are willing to mentor students.
Medical students and near-peer mentors. A near-peer mentor is someone who is only a few steps ahead of you. For pre-med students, near-peer mentors may be upperclassmen who have done well in premed courses or recent alumni already in medical school.
A near-peer mentor can provide practical advice about picking classes, studying for the MCAT, and preparing for interviews. Furthermore, near-peer mentors can encourage you through the obstacles that they have gone through themselves.
You can find near-peer mentors through your friend groups, premed societies, and formal mentorship programs. For instance, many universities affiliated with a medical school organize programs paring premed students with eager first- and second-year medical students.
The path to a medical career is a difficult one, but mentors can make the journey easier.
“Each individual advisor or mentor will only have a piece of the puzzle,” says Richard. “You will get a bigger picture and have a much better understanding of your path by having as many advisors and mentors as possible.”
Yoo Jung Kim is a medical student at the Stanford University School of Medicine and co-author of “What Every Science Student Should Know,” a guidebook for students interested in science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM. She also writes about medical school education for Doximity, an online medical social network.