Role Models and Mentors …. A Fundamental Aspect of Medicine

Mentor 2OK, so what do David and Victoria Beckham, Frank Lampard, Keira Knightley (of Pirates of the Caribbean fame) and David Tennant (formerly Dr Who) have in common? According to a recent survey of teachers these were the leading individuals who British schoolchildren rated as their most popular role models. Closer to home the issue was emphasised to me at one of the recent inaugural lectures (parenthetically, why don’t students attend these lectures? The criteria to be awarded a Professorship at the University of Birmingham are tough; they are world leaders in their field be it research, education or a combination of both – a great opportunity for our students to experience first-hand some new advances in Medicine and to hear what makes some of our Faculty tick, students would be very welcome and the lectures are always entertaining and understandable …) enough digression and back to the thrust … where it was very clear how Professor X’s career had been heavily influenced by two or three individuals – clinical scientists who served as inspiring role models.

We will all have our role models. I think back to my own career and my strong desire to be a “doc” since the age of 7. I was unwell thanks to Hepatitis A and anaemia and largely confined to home where I had exclusive use of a toilet (we were fortunate in having two!) and personalised knife, fork, spoon, cup, plate and bowl and somewhat ironically forced to eat liver in copious amounts. But it was the total dedication of our family GP that truly inspired me to one day emulate his behaviour.  Role models evolve as we mature – my school Biology teacher who brought science to life and key individuals in my undergraduate career who endorsed my enthusiasm for Medicine. Finally the reason I am an Endocrinologist and not a Cardiologist (perish the thought!) was largely driven by an influential Professor at a key stage in my junior training. For sure much of this is serendipity but in research based on medical students, social theory tells us that we do compare ourselves with reference groups of people who occupy the social role to which we aspire.

MentorSometimes your role models will develop with you and take on the role of a mentor. Mentor was a character in Greek mythology – as a friend of Odysseus he was asked to take on the task of looking after his son Telemachus. The term “mentor” has now been adopted as someone who imparts wisdom and expertise to someone of lesser experience; continuing the theme above Bobby Charlton has been a well publicised mentor for David Beckham. Mentorship is a crucial part of Medicine and confiding and trusting in a colleague who you know will first and foremost have your interests at heart is a defining part of the role. Several post-graduate mentorship programmes have grown supported by medical bodies, such as the Royal Colleges, Academy of Medical Sciences and leading Charities and is strongly supported by the General Medical Council.

As an undergraduate, whilst I would hope that the Medical School can provide you with lots of role models, and does provide you with a Personal Mentor for your support and guidance, it is virtually impossible, based on 400 students/ year, to provide each and every one of you with a “life-long” mentor, who is exactly the person you would hope to emulate.  Seeking out such individuals for yourselves is essential to provide you with much needed support and wisdom at key stages in your future careers. In turn the tables will turn full circle as you yourselves become the role models for future Medical Students and graduates and take on the mentorship of the next generation of doctors, something we already see in the number of our recent graduates who become Personal Mentors to give something back to the system…

Paul M Stewart

February 2012

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