June 2, 2022

on Mentoring: Mentoring in the time of COVID

---- Thomas J. Nuckton, MD, MS
---Tom is a pulmonary/critical care physician practicing in the San Francisco Bay Area. A California native, he completed med/peds residency training at Tulane, in New Orleans, LA, and returned to California for fellowship training at UCSF, in San Francisco, CA.---


To be honest, I almost sent the request to be a mentor into my email trash box. As a practicing intensivist, I was working in an ICU during the COVID pandemic. The last thing I needed was a new project. But driving into work the next morning, I started to reconsider. I had benefited greatly from mentorship throughout my career. Maybe it was time to return the favor, or at least try. In short order, the SMA assigned me not one, but two mentees.

Did I do a good job as a mentor? I’d like to think so, but I don’t really know. In retrospect, the year, with COVID’s impact, often seems blurry. But I do have a few reflections on mentoring.

I enjoyed being a mentor far more thant I thought I would. I genuinely looked forward to Zoom sessions with a mentee in the evening – me often with a bowl of soup at the end of a long day. Although I don’t consider myself to be overly considerate, I have to admit that I found myself thinking about my mentees quite a bit. What insights from my past could I give to their current situations? What might help their applications to residency or fellowship? How best to navigate the complexities at their level of training? Both mentees worked in regions with high levels of COVID; I offered support when I could, but both were already showing amazing character and resilience.

I felt immense pride when one mentee, a 4 th year medical student, matched into a fantastic internal medicine residency. And frustration when the other, a resident in a rigorous county program, didn’t match in cardiology – frustration not with the mentee but with a system that often seems capricious.

(Undaunted, the mentee has already started to re-apply). Regardless of their career goals, both mentees have fantastic personalities, ideals, and dedication. Getting to know them was a privilege.

Final thoughts: If you’re considering becoming a mentor – give it a try. Grab a bowl of soup and login to Zoom. Listen. Do your best. And be prepared to be surprised. You might find the experience to be far more rewarding than you imagine.

Posted in: Member BenefitsMentoringPhysicians-in-TrainingPIT
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