September 2022

September 2022 Blog: Why should we have mentorship programs in all our medical schools?

Isaac Newton once said “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants and Oprah Winfrey said “A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself”. Shawn Hitchcock said “A mentor empowers a person to see a possible future, and to believe it can be obtained” while Bob Proctor said “A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you than you see yourself, and helps bring it out of you”. Robert Kiyosaki said “Your mentors in life are important, so choose them wisely” and John Wooden said “A good coach can change a game. A great coach can change a life”. The list of such kind of words goes on and on.

Mentorship refers to the relationship whereby a highly knowledgeable or experienced person shares or transform the information or content of interest to the less knowledgeable or experienced person in that particular area. This relationship emphasizes on helping the individual grow and accomplish goals. It might involve professional and career development support, role modeling and psychosocial support.

Mentorship relationship can be in different forms depending on how mentor and the mentee interacts. At the college or University, mentorship can be between a teacher or faculty member and a student or between a student and his fellow students (this is called peer mentorship). In all of these scenarios, there can be one mentor (a person who mentors) to one mentee (a person who is mentored), one mentors and more than one mentees, one mentee and more than one mentors, more than one mentors and more than one mentee. The program can be with physically routine meetings or completely online or both, depending on the agreement between the participants. Each of the mentorship relationship above (teacher to student or student to student) has its advantages and its disadvantages. Despite the fact that peer mentorship is preferred more in low resources settings especially with faculty members and teacher to students where teachers are enough but they work more in harmony when practiced together in our academic institutions.

Why is it important to have such kind of programs in medical schools? I personally consider mentors as social-academic parents, sisters and brothers who are looking after students’ welfare at the personal level and more closely. Medicine is very unique compared to a number of other professions in term of both learning and practicing.  Learning from those who are experienced in the field plays a very significant role in ensuring the competency, professionalism and prosperity of a student in the medical field. Someone can be good at something or can be able to do something at his own, but by associating with those who are more experienced in the area, the person is able to do that thing in the best way and appropriately. Even if you don’t need one now, but sure you will need one later if real you want to excel in your career. Mentorship is important because it ensures provision of both career support, career guidance, skill development, networking, sponsorship, psychosocial support, emotional support, confidence boosting, and role modeling.
Almost all good doctors in the medical field were once mentored by someone. Comes to the world of business and entrepreneurship, the same thing. Simply, all great achievers in history of the world had mentors, from kings to philosophers.  Subjecting students under mentorship while at the medical school does not only ensure their academic and social prosperity, but also prepare them to mentor the coming generation of young doctors.

The delicate nature of the medical field calls upon diligent mentors to guide and care for the students who without that, are more likely to become medical citizens who are not patriots to the field. Since not every student is confident requesting of being a mentee to a certain college staff or senior student, establishing mentorship programs and leadership at the medical schools can be helpful to such kind of students. Let the programs be participatory with the chances to student at least to express their interest on who to be their mentors instead of just allocating them randomly without them knowing their mentors prior. Guideline Handbook for the program should be there and easily accessible to students and staff. Through the guidelines, both mentees and mentors can be highlighted on what is mentorship and why is it important, expectations of the programs etc.

Most medical schools in developing countries lack these mentorship programs. And you find that most of their both students and staff are not aware with mentorship. Sometimes, just because a certain staff member was not mentored, he/she refuses to offer mentorship to students so that they can experience hardships as he/she did. If both students and staff members could be educated on the benefits of such programs, they could find them worth being part of. Mentors (staff members) will not only get a chance to exercise and transfer their knowledge and skills, but also they will be doing a lifetime investment which might pay them later enormously.
Having these mentorship programs would address a lot of issues around social and academic life of students and reduce chances of academic bullying from teachers to students. Most students are struggling with a number of things and find no one to share with, from social-academic to mental health challenges since not everyone can talk to the Dean of students or communicate his/her matter to the University/ College Management.

I kindly urge all medical schools who don’t have mentorship program to consider the need of establishing them. Both students and staff members should be informed and well highlighted on such kind of programs to ensure their maximum participation. Both staff to student mentorship and Peer mentorship can be executed at once. If such programs can be made formal, then students should be encouraged to seek for mentors personally and staff members should be encouraged to be friendly and available to students who needs their support. Through this, we will be transforming the hearts and minds of medical students into great physicians, surgeons, teachers, public health experts and so on in the future who cares and ready to mentor their juniors too.

Harold Mashauri
Kilimanjaro Christian Medical University (KCMUCo)