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7 Secrets to Success I Learned from My Greatest Med School Mentor

Someone who comes to mind when I ask myself “What does it mean to succeed in medicine?” is one of my medical school mentors, Dr. E. His work ethic and throughput were so astonishing that he has been the subject of many a blog post that I’ve written.

During our years together, I learned how to be a doctor both through explicit axioms he gave me, and also just by observing the way he carried himself, took care of business, and interacted with his patients.

In this post, I’d like to share seven things I learned at his side that’ll help you lay the foundation for a successful career in medicine. Take them to heart, and you’ll be on your way to a great medical career!

7 Important Lessons My Med School Mentor Taught Me

1. Get it out of your queue.

Dr. E was a really busy guy. He had an enormous amount of data, queries, and papers coming into his inbox. He worked with medical students and residents at every phase of their training to help them get publications in prestigious journals. He sat on multiple committees and gave lectures to medical students on what otolaryngology was all about. His clinical load was as large as anyone’s. 

Dr. E’s secret to staying on top of everything was never letting anything sit on his to-do list for longer than it had to. Whenever work came his way, he would take care of it as soon as possible. Naturally, things would get prioritized, but there was never a shred of “I don’t feel like doing this right now.”

I can still hear him telling me, “Get it out of your queue, Radvansky. It’s gotta get done anyway.”

2. Look the part.

If he wasn’t scrubbed into surgery, Dr. E was wearing a suit. Did he have to? Certainly not. A shirt, tie, and white coat would suffice for most of his colleagues. But who looked like he had the world at his fingertips, as though nothing at all could slow him down? Dr. E, looking dapper in his tailored suit. 

Mind you, wearing a suit might not be the right move for you at this point in your career, but taking care of your appearance is important. So much of what we do as physicians is about maintaining appearances because patients judge us on it. Put yourself in the patient’s shoes. How confident would you be in a doctor’s ability to help you if they didn’t present themselves in a professional manner? So dress well, tuck in those scrubs, stay clean-shaven, and keep your hair in order. 

3. Live modestly.

One day we had to get something from Dr. E’s car. Since we were at a state medical school, some salary information was readily available, and all of us knew he was one of the state’s highest-paid employees, some years clearing 7 figures. And here we were grabbing a folder out of his eight-year-old Toyota Camry. His colleagues had a penchant for Porsches and Benzes, but he stayed modest. “I love doing this,” he said, “but I don’t want to do this forever.”

4. Stay organized.

How does one juggle a clinical load, leadership positions on multiple committees, and have 25+ papers in multiple phases of production? There is no choice but to stay incredibly organized. Otherwise, important things slip through the cracks. 

I remember turning in the draft of one of my publications to him. He immediately opened up a Microsoft Word document, found my name and paper title, and highlighted it in yellow. The screen looked like a rainbow—there were tons of lines with names and papers, all with loads of colored stripes behind them. He had devised a coding system to stay on top of everything.

This penchant for staying organized, in combination with his aforementioned determination to take care of everything immediately, is how Dr. E kept his empire running like a well-oiled machine. 

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5. Collaboration is key.

I remember thinking “I’m a know-nothing, second-year medical student–what can I contribute to the greater good?” “Fear not, Brian,” Dr. E said. “Give Qasim a call, he’ll set you straight.” Dr. E set me up with a prime fourth-year medical student who showed me the ropes on how to do research. I was given tasks equal to my ability and was able to materially contribute to the publication. 

As time went by, I became the medical student leader with underclassmen under my wing, and I was showing them how things got done. 

Dr. E was a connector, bringing students and residents together at every level. This lifted up the younger students by giving them mentors in the field and gave the older students a sense of responsibility and leadership as they put together research teams and provided them with guidance. 

6. Go with what you truly love.

When I finally made the decision that I was going to match into anesthesia, Dr. E was mildly disheartened, but he completely understood. “You must really, really love it,” he conceded. And I did. Every day my anesthesia rotations gave me that “this is it!” feeling, an emotion I didn’t have when I shadowed skull base surgeries. It was the best career decision I’ve ever made. And Dr. E respected my decision.

7. Love the work, not the mentor.

I loved just about everything about Dr. E. He really exemplified the physician and leader we all wanted to become as medical students. But somewhere in my mind, this thought had transformed into the idea that I was to become an ENT. The days I spent shadowing him in the OR were lackluster to me. I simply didn’t enjoy the work. 

Once I separated the man from the practice, I realized I could emulate all of the qualities that astounded me about Dr. E, without directly following in his footsteps. I would bring them to a different field, and the field would be better off for it.

Thanks for all you have taught me, Dr. E.

Further Reading

If you’re looking for more (free!) tips from Blueprint tutors, check out these other related posts on the Med School blog: