The Transformative Power of Mentors

Dec 4, 2014, 11:00 AM

Alden M. Landry, MD, MPH, is an emergency medicine physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and an alumnus of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Summer Medical and Dental Education Program. Landry, 32, is also co-director of Tour for Diversity in Medicine. On December 5, he will be a panelist when RWJF holds its first Scholars Forum: Disparities, Resilience, and Building a Culture of Health.

Tour for Diversity in Medicine (T4D) is a grassroots effort to educate, inspire, and cultivate future physicians and dentists of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds by forming local connections in order to fulfill a national need.  Our concept is simple: Visit students on their home turf; motivate them by introducing them to young, enthusiastic physicians and dentists; and give them the information that they need to be successful. 

Scholars Forum 2014 Logo: Disparities, Resilience, and Building a Culture of Health.

We carefully select mentors based on not only their roles in medicine and dentistry but how they got there. Our mentors are the first in their families to have attended college. Some are first-generation U.S. citizens. They come from single-family homes or families where they are the first to enter a career in medicine. They are gay and straight, married and single. They are passionate about their communities and their careers.

Our mentors do have one thing in common: we intentionally select mentors who are young in their careers and recent to the journey.

For many students in the audience, hearing the mentors’ stories is an eye-opening experience. Some voice that they have never seen a minority provider. Others have never had someone admit that they struggled. The notion that all doctors and dentists are flawless has been perpetuated to the detriment of the upcoming generation of minority providers. When the mentors tell their stories, students see a bit of themselves reflected. This is what makes the connections work and is what sparks the fire within so many students.

The students we met on every campus were passionate about their future career choices, inquisitive about how to stay on the right path, and eager for every bit of information. Since T4D’s February 2012 launch, we have visited more than 30 campuses and have reached more than 2,000 students.

Many of the students we meet don’t have adequate exposure to proper health professions advising and sound mentoring by people in the field. Most are located at far distances from academic medical centers that might otherwise provide enrichment opportunities.

The one-on-one conversations throughout each day, in addition to the formal workshops, are the key to our program’s success. Each of our mentors has made important connections with students which last beyond the tour stop and have grown into long term mentoring relationships.

As we address multiple issues within our health care system, including the need for a larger and more diverse workforce, I encourage other physicians, dentists, and health care professionals to serve as mentors. Your contribution can help a student realize his or her dreams and change the lives of others.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.