The Benefits of Mentorship in Medical School

Catherine Carragee
Published on Sep 16, 2020. Updated on Mar 12, 2023.

In medical school, having a mentor means having access to a wealth of professional knowledge and support. Your mentor may even be able to write you a strong letter of recommendation when the time comes to submit your residency applications and participate in the NRMP Match. For today’s blog, we interviewed Osmosis Medical Education Fellow Cat Carragee to learn how she found her mentor, and how she passes on her knowledge to fellow students.

How did you find your mentor in medical school?

I actually found my mentor before I went to medical school. I was working as a medical scribe and grew quite close to one of the doctors I was scribing for. It helped that we got on so well and that I found so many qualities of her patient and peer interactions to be admirable.

What qualities do you look for in a mentor?

There are several qualities I’d look for in a mentor. First off, I think it’s a good idea to have similar professional interests, as this is the person who will be guiding you as you pursue your career in medicine. You should also have similar personal interests and values—an example of this might be their attitude to work/life balance or their family values.

When choosing a potential mentor, you should also try to assess if they have the time to mentor you effectively.  If they’re overwhelmed, it can be difficult to really connect and maintain that relationship.

Not to make this sound like a dating profile, but for me, it was also important that my mentor had a sense of humor. Being able to joke with my mentor and feel safe to bear my insecurities about life's path was key. You should be compatible with your mentor on a personal level.

As a last note here, this isn’t really a quality, but I really wanted to be able to give something back to my mentor—in this case, I did some research and scribed for her. The mentor/mentee relationship will be much more balanced if you can each offer the other value.

Cat laughing with her mentor.

Why is it important to find a mentor in medical school?

Frodo had Gandalf, Harry had Dumbledore, Dorothy had Glinda—we could all use a friendly wizard or witch to offer sage advice as we embark on our professional journeys! There are just so many different ways to go about achieving your goals, it can be good to have someone to steer you on the right path. I’ve found it invaluable to have someone whose path is similar to how I hope mine will be. Check out how Conley's experience with a mentor helped him succeed in medical school. 

A mentor can be a powerful sounding board, an encouraging force, and a swift kick to get in gear. Every student (not just those of us pursuing medicine) needs someone other than their peers to give them advice and act as a looking glass into their potential future.

Frodo, Harry and Dorothy all with their mentors.

How has your mentor helped you in medical school?

My mentor has just been very supportive! Even when she hasn’t been able to help me get electives or find research, it has been helpful to have her there to talk out my next steps and identify potential opportunities.

How did you build your relationship with your mentor?

Slowly and steadily. I spent a lot of time with my mentors and I make an effort to keep in touch with them, even during busy rotations like this surgery rotation I’m currently pursuing!

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What are the best questions to ask a medical school mentor?

These will differ from person to person, but I think it’s important to try and balance what you’re putting into the relationship with what you’re taking out of it. In that way, it’s like any other relationship! Even if you can’t offer your mentor as much value as they’re providing you, you should still check in regularly and ask, “How can I help?” They’ll really appreciate the sentiment.

Have you ever been a mentor to another medical student?

Yes! I signed up to be a peer mentor to first year students and also to be a USMLE mentor. Both have been very rewarding, and the experiences have broadened my perspective on what mentorship really entails. If you ever have the opportunity, I’d definitely recommend seeking out mentorship opportunities.

What’s the greatest lesson you have learned in your role as a mentor?

As a mentor, I’m not responsible for my mentee’s successes or failures. I can only provide advice. I can’t make them study more, or force them to apply for research opportunities or grants. As a mentor, it’s not my place to nag!

Can you recommend any resources for medical students seeking mentorship?

It really differs based on personal circumstances. I found my mentor while scribing before I even started medical school. Other people might just get along very well with a physician they work with during clinical rotations. Some medical schools offer mentorship programs, which can be a useful resource whether you’re looking to find a mentor or become one.

Sometimes, students can be hesitant to reach out to potential mentors—myself included!  I was always overthinking my decision to send emails and ask for advice. This is some advice I’ve been given by my mentor, which I’ve passed along to my mentees: it’s okay to be persistent! Don’t become discouraged if a potential or current mentor doesn’t respond right away. They’re busy people too!

Leading off that, maybe just brush up on some email/correspondence etiquette in the beginning. Mentorships ideally transition from a professional to a more casual relationship, but it’s always nice to start off with good manners.

Finally, most mentors really want to help, but we can’t anticipate all your needs and questions. As a mentee, it’s up to you to take that first step. 

Cat with her mentor talking to a patient.

Thank you for sharing your excellent advice, Catherine! For more advice on professional development and tips on how to build the strongest residency application possible, check out the Osmosis Ultimate Guide to the NRMP® Match

About Cat

Cat Carragee is a second year medical student at the University College Dublin in Ireland. She is passionate about primary care, small animals, and good books. A California native, when she's not in class or studying, she spends her time chasing sunny days and looking for a pick-up soccer game.


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