It is no surprise that careers in medicine are challenging and that the academic journey is lonely. Oftentimes, pre-medical and medical students find themselves looking for guidance and advice as they navigate the process. With that, it is essential to connect with those who have come before you to help guide you through the process and aid you in succeeding. With the dawn of COVID-19, social interaction has become an ancient artifact. Virtual gatherings, meetings, and interviews have become the new normal. Although this seems much less personal than “in-person” meetings, in utilizing virtual platforms like Zoom, WebEx, Skype, and Microsoft Teams, we find it is much easier to maintain relationships because of the convenience. There is no longer a need to leave your house or schedule in traveling time to your meeting destination; instead, meetings and connection are indefinitely available with our current technologies. As medical students continue on in their career path during this time, their need for mentors continues to exist, even more so with an ever-changing system and medical education policy. Here is how you can utilize platforms like Zoom to manifest and maintain mentorships in a “COVID-19 friendly” manner.
Identify your Needs
Finding a mentor seems like a daunting task to some, but it is fairly straightforward. It is essential that you first identify what you are looking for in a mentor and find one that fits your needs. Before starting your search for a mentor, define your goals and needs as well as obstacles that are prohibiting you from achieving these goals. Next, brainstorm why you want a mentor. Do you want one to learn more about the field? Do you want someone to help you develop the qualities needed for the field, to guide you in the steps to achieve this career, or to aid you in developing new skills? During this step, it is essential that you are being honest with yourself in analyzing your journey and what you need to succeed.
Who is a Mentor
A mentor can be anybody who is ahead of you on the medical journey. This person ultimately is a role model, who will support you in working towards your goals using the wisdom they have gained through their personal experiences. Ultimately you want a mentor who is in a position that you see as an end goal for yourself. This makes the mentorship more beneficial because your mentor can identify what helped him/her to achieve their goal and what they felt may have been a disadvantage during their journey. It is easier for them to provide advice on a topic that they had experienced.
How to Find a Mentor
Mentors can be found anywhere. You can meet great mentor candidates at conferences or on online professional networks like LinkedIn. It could be a person that you have worked with or met at some point in time. Additionally, you can ask a mutual contact to introduce you if you have identified a person who seems that they would be a good mentor for you. This could be in person or via email.
Schedule the First Call
Call or email this potential mentor and introduce yourself, then inquire if they would be willing to meet with you over Zoom because you are interested in getting some advice and wisdom pertaining to their field. An example template would be,
“I am interested in _____ and I know you are a ______! I am looking to follow a similar path, would you have time to share some insight or direction in this area? Thank you”
Make it easy for them. Ask them for their availability and always explain that you recognize they are busy and would appreciate any time that they are willing to give. If they agree, set a date and time and invite them to have virtual coffee/tea during your chat. This makes a virtual meeting resemble an “in-person” meeting where you would meet at a coffee shop.
First Zoom Meeting
Your first interaction should be centered around getting to know them and see if their work, interests, and characteristics align with yours.
- Be early to the meeting.
- Dress professionally. It is a privilege to be meeting with them, so treat the meeting as if it were an “in-person” meeting.
- Be mindful of your location. Choose a location that has minimal distractions and is quiet to avoid any disruptions in your virtual meeting.
- Have questions prepared. It is important that you use this time wisely because this is the time to identify if they are a good mentor for you and to get your initial questions answered.
- Take notes. Ask your potential mentor if it is okay for you to take some notes during the meeting. This is important because this shows you value their wisdom.
- Essential talking points.
- First, ask about them and their journey
- Challenges and successes they experienced
- Then you can ask specific questions
- Make this meeting about them. They should be talking most of the time because you are learning from their journey.
- Thank them. Express to them that you really appreciate their time and enjoyed the conversation.
- Ask to reconnect. Make sure not to end the call without scheduling the next call. Ask, “would it be okay if we chatted again in a month or two?”
- Follow up. After your conversation, follow up with a thank-you email confirming your next meeting time.
Make the Ask
Take comfort in knowing that being asked to be a mentor is a compliment and many medical professionals recall how hard the journey is and are excited to give back to the next generation. Put yourself in their shoes and recognize what an honor it would be for a student to ask you for advice and guidance. After 2-3 meetings with this potential mentor, be clear, asking if they would be willing to be your mentor. If they agree to it, move forward with making a plan to maintain the relationship.
Create a Plan
It is essential to determine accountability and how often you will meet up or check-in. There is no purpose in mentorship if you do not maintain the relationship. As you continue to develop this mentorship, be sure to share your goals with them so they can watch you grow. Additionally, do not just take from your mentor. Try to aid your mentor in whatever ways you can, you want them to experience a return from the relationship as well. Ask them what they hope to get out of the relationship, and always express gratitude.
Even in the age of COVID-19, it is still easy to connect with others over virtual platforms and it destroys the distance barrier. It even creates a convenience in developing and maintaining relationships with mentors. Do not let COVID-19 keep you from seeking out and developing the help you need to succeed.