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Thursday Mar 27, 2014

Pass Along Your Knowledge: Be a Mentor

I had a conversation the other day that really got me thinking. Where did I learn the most important things I know about being a physician?

I was at rehearsal for a choral concert and began talking to an older gentleman during a break. He knew my husband and I are family physicians in a rural community, and he asked me about our practice. His question, specifically, was about what our work days are like.

Hannah Haack, M.D., (right) a third-year resident at Wesley Family Medicine Residency in Wichita, Kan., did a four-week rotation with me at my practice in Stockton, Kan. I try to pass on what I learned from my own mentors.

I told him that in the week prior I had delivered two babies, been on call overnight, worked a full week in the clinic and met a patient in my office on a Saturday morning to change a wound packing. My husband, and practice partner, had responded directly to an accident scene and accompanied the patient to the hospital, done a home visit for a terminally ill patient, dropped off medicine at another patient’s home and worked a full week in the clinic.

The man asked where I went to medical school, and I told him the University of Kansas. He said, "And they taught you that there?" I knew what he was referring to, and it wasn't the tasks related to seeing patients in clinic. It was the things we did outside the realm of "normal" day-to day-practice. His question made me pause and ask myself, "Where did I learn these things?"

I was fortunate to go to a medical school that has a robust and established family medicine department with great mentors. But the things that make my husband and I special to our patients aren’t taught in a classroom or even on rotations in the hospital.

For me, these special touches were modeled by my mentors. They were modeled to me by other physicians working in communities across the state who were kind enough to open their practices to medical students and residents. They welcomed me into their exam rooms and their homes and imparted wisdom that they had learned from their years in practice. They took me along on home visits, as well as visits to their patients in nursing homes. They took me to dinner and stepped away when a patient came up and needed to talk. They took me on coroner calls, let me be in the room when breaking bad news to patients and family members, and showed me it was OK to cry when you deliver bad news.

They showed me how to be more than just a physician. They showed me how to be someone’s doctor.

For most of us, our days are so full it is hard to imagine adding one more thing, and as new physicians, we still question with some frequency whether we know enough. Am I the right person to teach someone else while I'm still figuring things out? I would challenge you that the answer is "Yes."

You may still have to look things up more often than a seasoned physician, but this shows that you are human and that you care enough to keep learning. You may not have all the processes in your office polished, but you can show a student or resident how you go about doing quality improvement and discuss the importance of making these changes. But most importantly, you can model your love and passion for your profession.

Many medical students say that it was an experience with one particular physician that solidified their specialty choice. For our future family physicians, let that physician be you. Show them all the things a family physician can do, show them that they can love their job, and show them how they can be someone’s doctor.

Beth Loney Oller, M.D., practices full-scope family medicine in Stockton, Kan.

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