A Mentor in Medicine Can Shape a Career

June 22, 2012

Remembering my own mentor reminds me how powerful these people can be for young healthcare professionals.

As I traverse my fifth decade of life, one reality is asserting itself more and more. It seems that the loss of friends and family, and the loss of the icons in life that I grew up with, accelerates.

Every person in life has a “most unforgettable” person that helped shaped his or her life and attitudes about living. It seems to be especially true of those in medicine. I have been fortunate in life to have more than one of these. However, I can think of no one in this role that I admire more than Wendy.

This week, I lost a friend, and mentor, who had helped to shape my career as a physician assistant, Wendy Wayne, RN, NP, was 64 years of age when she finally succumbed to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma after fighting the disease for many years.

Wendy was one of the first people that I met in 1982 when I moved to Bakersfield to take my first job as a PA 32 years ago. In our community, the PAs and the NPs have always hung together as a group and worked to support each other professionally. It was through a mutual PA/NP local society that I first came into contact with Wendy and many of my life-long friends in our community.

Wendy shaped much of my attitudes about a life a service as a PA and a healthcare provider. Her example, stamina, and hard work on behalf of others less fortunate than her were simply superhuman. I can honestly say that over my entire career, Wendy inspired me to work a little harder, care a little more, and always strive to make a difference in my community and in everyone’s lives that I have the privilege of touching every day.

Medical providers have unique opportunities to be mentors and preceptors for the next generation. We can set the tone for freshly graduated clinicians from medical school, PA programs, and nursing schools. Younger clinicians can see our determination to go the extra mile for patients, and in a way, the passion we bring to caring for patients continues through to the next generation.

I frequently allow pre-PA students to shadow me and show them how PAs excel in the team-based, patient-focused medical home. Many PA students come through our practice on rotations, and I make it a point to take time to work with as many of them as I can.

A few tips I have always found helpful when mentoring the next generation of clinicians can be of use to all members of the healthcare team:

• Create a positive environment where potential and motivation are released and options discussed. The mentor's job is to inspire the protégé to think creatively.
• Nurture a positive character by helping to develop not just talent, but a wealth of mental and ethical traits.
• Mentors should share their failures as well as their successes. This lets the protégé appreciate the problems he can expect to encounter while pursuing a goal.
• Finally, make mentoring a wonderful experience - laugh, smile, and enjoy the process. There is an opportunity to make it as much fun and worthwhile as you want.

I will miss Wendy because she was such a shining example of what it meant to be a human being and a member of a community. Wendy’s enduring legacy will be that she made a profound difference in the lives of thousands of people in our community and around the world, including mine.

This portion of life is hard in that it seems as if there is an endless stream of loss of friends and family, icons, and everything that helped shape one’s life over previous decades. We understand in medicine that illness and death is a constant. It is easier to cope with this reality when we are younger because true loss is few and far between.

However, to make sure Wendy’s legacy of "going the extra mile" continues, I make sure that I reach out to as many young clinicians as possible and show them what has worked for me - and what hasn’t. Because of the example Wendy set, I strive to care for those most vulnerable members of our community and society, every waking hour that I have left.

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This blog was provided in partnership with the American Academy of Physician Assistants.