Aug 26 2015 by Don Lawrence

The Importance of Mentorship



Quick question: Who is your mentor?


I’m willing to bet a person, a face, a phone number comes to your mind almost immediately. It’s the person who helped you through your years in residency and is still the first person you want to talk to when you have a question.

It shouldn’t be surprising that one of the biggest requests that young surgeons have is for their mentors to never change their cell phone numbers. Having instant access to your mentor — or others that have more experience than you do — via telephone or email or other new technology is extremely valuable.

If you’re a young neurosurgeon, it’s likely that you still lean on your mentor for advice. If you’re a more seasoned veteran, talking with your mentee can be a refreshing reminder on how crucial it is to continuously learn, as well as an opportunity to share a bit from your robust body of knowledge and experience.

“I think mentoring is a cornerstone,” Dr. Alfredo Quiíñones-Hinojosa told the PBS program “Nova” back in 2008. “Mentoring is the reason why I am here today.”

Dr. Quiíñones-Hinojosa — or Dr. Q as he’s frequently called — has one of the more remarkable mentoring stories in the field of neurological surgery. As a teenager, he left Mexico to become a migrant farmhand in California. He learned English and eventually landed scholarships to Cal-Berkley and Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Q decided to pursue a career in neurosurgery, focusing on brain cancer. And while he credits his mentors for helping him get to this point, he also feels the urgent need to continue mentoring aspiring neurosurgeons.

“I have to recognize that I may never be able to have a significant impact on brain cancer, so my duty is to train those future generations,” he said. “Within those young minds, there are a lot of diamonds, a lot of rough diamonds, and my role is to polish them. My role is to cut them a certain way to help them unleash their full potential.”

In Arkansas, Dr. Ali Krisht happily takes on mentees from all over the world through the Arkansas Neuroscience Institute, a facility that he runs in Little Rock.

“I like to think I teach them character, how to really care in such depth that (they) are going to be better surgeons,” he told the Healthcare Journal of Little Rock. “When you want to do a good job, you’re going to pursue it (as) a lifetime learning experience, you want to improve on yourself every day.”

In addition to helping them learn medical skills, Dr. Krisht also strongly encourages his students to live a healthy lifestyle and better manage their time. He also thinks that mentorship can help fill in what he feels are potential gaps in education.

“We used to be trained in a rigorous way,” he said. “We needed to achieve certain skills, but at the same time we (were) being watched by our mentors in how we acted and reacted to patients, how we reacted to our failures. We (were) being always put under the gun to achieve more and better. The level of knowledge and experience is shrinking over time.”

But mentorship can also play a huge role in preventing that knowledge loss by helping to reach and grow the next generation of neurosurgeons, even at a younger age. Take, for instance, the very recent example of a high school senior in Minnesota interested in pursuing a career in neurosurgery.

Reem Ghanem spent her senior year mentorship this year with Dr. Andrew Grande at the University of Minnesota. She observed surgeries and performed research among many other opportunities, and said that her eyes were opened to all that neurosurgery involves.

“Many people think it’s just operating all the time,” she said in an article from the University of Minnesota. “There is so much more to it. You have to have empathy, be good with people. What I found from shadowing Dr. Grande is that a lot of his time is spent with patients and their families, helping them get through the situation, explaining to them exactly what’s happening.”

The kicker to the story? Ghanem isn’t even attending Minnesota. She’s off to Stanford this fall.

But the impact of her opportunity to learn from Dr. Grande has already had an impact on her career.
And I’m willing to bet she has his phone number if she needs it at Stanford.