Five ways to become a better mentor (in ophthalmology)

Dr. Sridhar loves to start every interview asking, "Why Retina?" I always look forward to listening to this part of the podcast, because it shows that Ophthalmologists, no matter how long they've been practicing, were once medical students, just like me. Although every journey is unquestionably unique, I've noticed they all a share a common thing:  behind every great story, there are great mentors. 

We probably spend only 5 days learning ophthalmology before our clinical rotations, yet I am 100% certain that I want to be an ophthalmologist. What drew me to ophthalmology wasn't just the field itself, but the people practicing it.  My mentors inspire me every day and are one of the primary reasons why I am choosing this specialty. If you are an ophthalmologist and you're wondering how to inspire those medical students shadowing you, here's a guide on how to be an awesome mentor in ophthalmology

1. Take every student's initial interest seriously, even more seriously then they might be taking it. 

When I started medical school, I found everything interesting. When I first told my advising dean that "I thought ophthalmology might be neat," she immediately scheduled an appointment for me to meet an ophthalmologist, who then in turn, when I mentioned "I might be interested in research," immediately introduced me to the lab where I've been working ever since. Medical students most often don't know what they want, and it can be frustrating to mentor someone who seems change career plans every week. However, my mentors knew I would enjoy the specialty and made sure to create enough opportunities for me to fall in love. 

2. Really listen to your mentees


I really admire my mentors, and they are probably unaware of how much influence they have. I am always so humbled when a busy ophthalmologist makes time to meet with me, answer my questions, and listen to my "revelations" about ophthalmology, which they must heard countless times. However, feeling really listened to is an amazing feeling, especially when the listener is someone who you deeply respect. 

3. Show them the cool stuff (and how to use it!)


Many ophthalmologists take for granted the many cool toys and techniques they use every day and forget how foreign they are for most medical students. I still remember the awe I experienced being introduced to many of the gadgets. I felt like a secret agent trying on the direct ophthalmoscope, I felt like a Nobel physicist learning the theory behind OCT, and I was mesmerized watching an IOL unfold inside the eye.

Most ophthalmology instruments take practice to use - the indirect ophthalmoscope, the slit lamp, etc... so it's important to encourage students to keep trying even if they fail at first - because it's definitely worth it. Nothing beats visualizing the fundus for the first time!

4. Tell them it's ok to be grossed out at first

One of the most common responses I get when I tell people that I'm going in to ophthalmology is ... "eww eyeballs.."  Personally, I have trouble having anything near my own eyes, so I can understand. The first surgery I ever watched was an enucleation of an eye with uveal melanoma. Witnessing the "crunch" of the optic nerve being taken out almost made me pass out. At that moment, I thought I could never do this specialty, but thankfully there was a scrub tech that told me he used to react the same way. He reassured me that it's definitely a phobia that passes with time. Many medical students will have the same visceral experience when witnessing their first surgery. Tell them it's ok to feel queasy and it doesn't mean they can't become great eye surgeons! 

5. Be a great Ophthalmologist

I am always impressed with the humility, knowledge, and kindness of the ophthalmologists I have met. Leading by example is so powerful.. and sometimes your actions have more influence than your words. Just being able to witness excellence inspires me to be better. One of my mentors expects a lot from everyone who works with him, including himself. He is very hard to impress, which always motivates me to set higher standards for myself. 

This is definitely not an all-inconclusive list, but a rather a few of the most impactful things my mentors have done for me. No matter what stage you are at in your medical training, there are people who look up to you. Never betray their respect and always keep striving to be better. Wish you the best of luck in inspiring the next generation of ophthalmologists!



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