Whether through formal arrangements or casual interactions, medical students depend on the guidance of resident mentors to help them explore the possibilities of a career in emergency medicine (EM), prepare a competitive application, and match into a residency program. So, how exactly should medical students go about the anxiety-inducing task of finding a resident mentor and developing a strong relationship with him or her? Fortunately, it has never been easier to dive into the world of EM as a medical student. With open access education resources online and countless opportunities to network through organizations like EMRA, there are many ways to meet and interact with potential resident mentors.
What is Unique about Medical Student Mentorship in EM?
While the concept of mentorship is hardly unique to EM, the audition and application process adopted by EM residency programs has resulted in a situation in which physicians practicing outside of the specialty may have severely limited knowledge about what makes a successful application. Students may even be ill-advised by some attending emergency physicians who are not as familiar with recent changes in the application process. With this, there is a huge knowledge gap that can only be filled by those currently involved in the training process. For students, this means that residents are often the most up-to-date resource regarding the application process to the specialty.
What Mentorship Opportunities Exist Through EMRA?
First and foremost, turn to the EMRA Student-Resident Mentorship program. This project is managed by the EMRA Medical Student Council and is the premier platform for direct medical student advising by EM residents. The program is open to every medical student member of EMRA. Through the program, students are asked a series of questions regarding their background and interests to help create a match between one of the EMRA resident mentors and the student. While third- and fourth-year students will benefit significantly from involvement in the program during the peak of the audition, application, and interview process, students entering the program in the first or second year have a major opportunity to foster a long-term relationship with their mentors. As such, it is recommended to sign up for the program as early as possible to maximize this potential (emra.org/students/mentorship).
Mentorship in the Pre-Clinical Years
During the pre-clinical years, getting involved with your medical school Emergency Medicine Interest Group (EMIG) is an easy first step that can prove invaluable when it comes time to find a mentor. EMIGs will often host resident speakers, which provides a great opportunity for networking. While some medical schools are associated with emergency medicine residency programs, many medical students are faced with the challenge of finding resident mentors from outside institutions. Remaining active within the school EMIG is a great way to combat this problem. By establishing relationships with attending emergency physicians in the community affiliated with the EMIG, opportunities to interact with outside residency programs will open up. For medical students with direct access to a residency program at their own institution, a great way to find a mentor is to schedule a shadowing shift in the emergency department (ED). After meeting some of the residents on shift, establishing a mentor-mentee relationship is as simple as exchanging emails.
Mentorship in the Clinical Years
In the clinically-oriented third and fourth years, the best way to find a resident mentor is to complete an emergency medicine rotation in an emergency department that is staffed with residents. Not only will this provide ample opportunity for advising, it will allow students to experience first-hand what it's like to be an EM resident. Although it can often be a busy and chaotic place, rotating in a teaching ED can also result in some great clinical learning opportunities. For students who are unable to rotate in an ED prior to the fourth year, most residency programs are happy to allow students to participate in shadowing shifts or even attend didactics and journal club sessions. This can be accomplished by reaching out to program coordinators and expressing an interest in getting involved. Many programs have a specific group of residents interested in education, and these individuals are great resources and potential mentors for motivated students.
What Makes a Great Mentor-Mentee Relationship?
Just as important as finding a mentor is being able to recognize the characteristics of a healthy mentor-mentee relationship. This skill will serve medical students well, as EM residents tend to have outgoing personalities and will be quick to offer help. While all of these relationships can be rewarding, it is important to first establish a few prerequisites prior to entering into a mentor-mentee relationship. With multiple potential mentors, how can students decide how to proceed?
Before selecting a mentor, it is critical that both the potential mentor and the mentee are able to have a clear and direct conversation about important topics. For example, if a resident mentor is unable to produce a single drawback to the practice of emergency medicine, this may be a good indication that he or she is not being fully honest and may not help the student in deciding whether the specialty is a good fit. On the other hand, if a student would like help strategizing for the residency application process, it would be a significant detriment to lie to the resident mentor about application details.
Once the ground rule of mutual honesty has been established, there are quite a few secondary features that serve to enhance the mentor-mentee relationship. Does the mentor share the same career goal as the student? Does he or she have a similar academic profile and have experience applying to programs of interest to the student? These are a few questions to consider. For students with specific needs or concerns, it is often quite helpful to find a mentor with a similar background. While some of these secondary characteristics may be difficult for students to find independently, participation in organized mentorship programs will significantly increase the likelihood of finding an ideal mentor.
A Personal Note
Mentors can have a profound effect on a medical student's early career. Therefore, it is imperative that students seek mentors early and often. For graduating medical students and current residents interested in becoming a mentor, please consider joining the EMRA Student-Resident Mentorship program.