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Mentorship - the Art of Dating Around

By Allison Meiwald

After 4 years of nursing school, 4 years of medical school, and 5 years of residency, I am now in my 8th year of practice as an Emergency Physician. How on earth did I get to this point? I remember being a high school student and having a plan. I was going to do a science degree, just like my cousin whom I idolized, and then become a world leader in neonatology. The next thing I knew I was doing a nursing degree instead of a science degree, and then I accidentally fell in love with Emergency Medicine.

But how did I actually get to where I am today? As expected, I jumped through all the flaming hoops and passed all the expensive exams. But I really got here by having mentors. Many, many mentors. Some were part of my life for a long time, some were only around for a short time. Some played roles in my professional life, while others played roles in my personal life. And some make their way into every little thing I do.

My first true exposure to hard work and persistence was through my mom. She was a teacher for 38 years. She was one of those teachers that you were desperate for your child to have, one of those teachers that truly made a difference. When I was 4 years old, she went to university to complete her degree. She did this on evenings, weekends, and summer vacations to become a better educator. When I was 13 years old, she went back to university to complete her Master’s of Education degree. Again, this was done in her “spare” time. I still remember watching her cross that stage to get her degree.

Memories of my mom were some of the things that kept me going while slogging through what felt like an endless education, and kept me going when I decided that I also desired a Master’s of Education degree. Those memories also helped me assuage my mom guilt. With a young child I was constantly worried that working full time along with being in school meant I was neglecting my daughter and husband. But I remembered the pride my dad and I had watching my mom get her degree. I also remembered the closeness that my dad and I developed as we navigated some interesting times together while I was an early teenager. I know it’s from her that I learned my perseverance. Yes, I was spending some of my “spare” time doing homework, but I knew that that was also affording my family opportunities to grow together and to teach my daughter the same lessons my mom taught me.

Once in medical school I had to figure out how to get into a competitive residency – a residency that didn’t actually exist at my home university. I was lucky enough to find 3 mentors – a senior Emergency Physician as well as 2 more junior Emergency Physicians, who also happened to be a husband and wife team. I spent countless hours with them both at work and outside of work (ok, that’s a lie. I kept track for my application. It was 160 extra hours of clinical exposure). They would call me in the middle of the night when I was in-house for another rotation when an interesting case came in. The walked me through my first ART lines, intubations, pelvic exams. They invited me out for dinner where we talked about not only my career goals, but also my life goals. We talked about balancing work and life. We talked about potential career positions. We talked about my desire to have a family and be a mom. There was never any pressure. They always let me think things through and helped me find my own path.

Once in residency, I felt bombarded. I moved to a city more than double the size of my old one and I had no support network. But I found people here and there that could guide me. I found “my people” from back home who could relate to and talk with me about my home sickness. I found people who could relate to putting school first and still being single. I found confidantes who just clicked. And I found staff physicians who were able to guide me through the residency rollercoaster.

And then I found my now husband. With a down to earth way about him, he taught me to start enjoying life again and to remember that although I love my work, it is just work. Many may not consider their partner a mentor, but he has taught me to look at things differently, to apply a different lens. I’m still looking up to him and learning from him almost 9 years after meeting him.

I was at The Canadian Women In Medicine conference in June and Dr. Mamta Gautam made the comment that “Mentorship is not like a marriage – it doesn’t have to be monogamous”. I certainly have “dated around” to find the mentors that I needed at the times that I needed them. I’m sure I’ll have more as my career and life progress.

So look for your mentors. Date around until you find what you are looking for. Because mentors will get you where you want to go.

Allison is an Emergency Physician in London, ON and is the assistant program director for the Emergency Medicine Residency Program. But her favourite past time is spending time with her husband and 5 year old daughter.

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