Mentorship at Penn Med

At Penn Med, “mentorship” is more than just a buzzword. An MS3 shares her perspective on the culture and community of mentoring at Penn.

When I think back to May 13th 2013, less than 48 hours before the equally exciting and fearful May 15th deadline (aka the day which “you must pick one, and ONLY one medical school to attend,”) I am pleasantly reminded as to why I chose to attend medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. I think back to that afternoon where I found myself sitting at my kitchen table with my older brother, who is also a physician. I was making the painstaking decision between attending medical school close to the comforts of home, family, and friends at my alma mater or moving to the East Coast in order to attend the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. While my brother knew months prior when I was accepted to UPenn that I would be matriculating here for medical school, he sat patiently while I resorted to my handy-dandy “T-diagrams” and allowed them to fulfill their timeless role as a “pros and cons” list, one for each school. About half way through my first list, my brother appropriately nudged me along in my decision making. He simply asked, “Liz, what is holding you back from admitting that you belong at Penn? The hard part is over… they’ve already accepted you! Now all that you have to do is GO!” While even he had to smirk at his over simplification of my just having to “go” to the East Coast, my response was more insightful than expected. I replied with the honest answer that I was hesitating out of fear—I would be moving to a new city where I had no family, no friends, and would unfortunately have to face my fear of flying at least twice a year! I expressed that what I needed was to have someone like him, like family, at Penn. Someone to have my best interests in mind and, of course, tons of patience and encouragement for all of my sure-to-come struggles. He took my list and added “mentorship” to the “pro” section for UPenn. Sibling rivalry usually limits my acknowledgment of how smart my brother may be, but I have to admit, he sure knew what he was talking about this time.

While the concept of mentorship may not be unique to UPenn, I do believe that it is uniquely applied here. At every level of the “medical school hierarchy” connections are constantly being made, upheld, and expanded upon, whether that be between medical students in the same year, different years, with residents, attendings, post-docs, etc. To be honest, though the term “hierarchy” certainly serves a historical and legal purpose within the medical community when distinguishing student from resident from attending, it just doesn’t feel correct to apply to Penn. If I had to describe the relationship of academics at Penn Med, it would be best described as a ‘web’ comprised of multiple layers of closely interwoven thread, all of which rely on connections with others to maintain its tension and strength. The building of your “Penn web” begins during your first week of orientation when you are assigned to your “learning team”, a random grouping of 6-7 students with whom you share the most time during your first year and a half of med school While taking ‘team exams’, synergizing in small groups, and taking classes together, whether or not you realize it at the time, you are also mentoring one another. With the beyond impressive students at Penn, and their incredible variety of backgrounds and experiences, it really should have come as no surprise that my classmates have offered me some of my best mentor and mentee interactions, an asset that cannot be highlighted enough as clerkships are now off and running!

In addition to the supportive infrastructure Penn Med students offer one another, the impressive faculty are a key distinguishing feature at Penn. In all honesty, this exact paragraph was written after a prolonged period of writer’s blocker encouraged me to check my inbox, and I had three emails, from three different mentors, currently in three different states, still taking the time out of their busy schedules to respond to emails and offer advice or project ideas. I have never felt so supported as a student, future physician, but most importantly, as a person by this university. With time built in to our curriculum for a scholarly pursuit, we are constantly encouraged to interact with our faculty and peers. Often meetings which begin with discussions about research projects conclude with encouragement, guidance, and most importantly, a sense of genuine support as we trudge forward in our careers. I may not know exactly what field of medicine I will end up in or where I will be practicing, but I am confident that UPenn has and will continue to provide my classmates and me with the necessary tools to pursue and accomplish our goals.

Elizabeth Messenger is a 3rd year medical student at the Perelman School of a Medicine. She is currently interested in pursuing a career within dermatology. In her free time, you can find her on the volleyball or basketball courts.