De-Mentored

Learn how not to mentor.


The following are recently discovered personal journal entries by a mentor-mentee dyad from the prepandemic era. They shed great light on that crucial developmental relationship (and provide a helpful guide on how absolutely not to mentor).

Illustration by David Rosenman
Illustration by David Rosenman

Johnny Newsome, MD, attending physician: Today I got roped into a medical school lunch. Luckily, I ran into my old classmate Squirtenheimer. Surprised he's still ambulatory. We sat in the corner yakking it up. He filled me in on the latest gossip and hit me with some ways for our inpatient service to improve patient safety. Best ideas I've thought up in a long time. We talked about going to a conference in New Orleans, depending on the music scene that week. It was nice to have an uninterrupted (for the most part) chance to catch up. There was only one med student who sat with us (Chasbo?) and kept trying to ask questions. He was a weird one, in a suit a size too small. They always seem drawn to me. The buffet food was marginal, so I sent the student through the line first to get a better look at it.

Casey Butcherblock, medical student: Today was the “Meet Your Mentor” lunch, and I'm pretty sure I made a great impression on Dr. Newsome. He seems to be a very busy and important physician. I'm not sure what specialty he's in. Nobody I asked could tell me what he actually does. I think he noticed my nicely cut suit. Image is important, after all. He and a colleague were discussing an interesting project that I think he might want me to be first author on. I am sure he said I could be first. So glad to have a mentor, and I know it will be great for both of us!!!

Emailed my mentor today. He seems really busy. I made sure to let him know that I'm available almost anytime, and Mondays and Fridays (as well as evenings) are ideal. But never Wednesdays. Or Thursdays. Or any day before 10 a.m. I sent all the emails marked as high importance. I am very excited to meet with him soon.

JN: Started catching up on e-mail today, about 10 of them from some student, Clive (?). Turfed him to my secretary. She's on vacation for a week or two. Thought about replying myself but then started looking at Facebook.

CB: I stopped by my mentor's office today, because I hadn't heard back from him about setting up a meeting. He said he never got my email. We both grabbed our phones to schedule next Wednesday at 8. Not a good time for me but I will reschedule my aerial hot yoga. I like how he took so many notes on his phone as I talked. He seems very organized. I know he'll help me in my career. I only hope I can be like him.

JN: That student (Charlie?) came by, caught me as I was heading to the bathroom. I thought he was going to follow me into the stall. Sat with him for a minute and was able to read a few emails while he babbled. Bought concert tickets for conference trip.

CB: Came to meeting. Dr. Newsome's secretary said he was out of town. I must have gotten the date wrong.

JN: One of our senior residents had to drop out of a pretty marginal study, due to a family issue and common sense. With a massive volume of data and low likelihood of publication, none of the other residents will touch it. Was ready to ditch the whole thing when I spotted that first-year med student (Carter?). Told him I'd been looking all over for him to see if he'd like to take it on. Dangled first authorship as a carrot. He mentioned writing for JAMA as an undergrad.

CB: Saw Dr. N. I must have made quite an impression. He offered me first author on a project! I mentioned my high school research on the 1980s' University of Houston “Phi Slama Jama” basketball team, and, as a personal detail, that I love to write in my pajamas. He seemed impressed. He said it shouldn't take any more than a few hours a week for a month or two. I don't know how I'll take that much time off from my studies, but I'll make it work.

Emailed mentor. Research project is a go. Need to find out what it's about. Bunch of paperwork from some guy named “Irb” or something like that. I had a cousin named Irv, but he's an accountant.

JN: Emailed med student (Clyde?). It's been about three months, so I hope the data has been analyzed and the bulk of the manuscript is complete. Ran into a buddy who edits a journal that would take the article. He owes me one, I introduced him to his wife.

CB: Oh no, Dr. N. wants something by the end of the week. I'll have to get cracking on this tomorrow, but I have a cardiology final Friday. I don't where I put his email explaining the project. I think I might have deleted all the files. Emailed him with my ideas for a few other projects to try to distract from that paper. Need to ask him for a recommendation letter.

JN: Reviewed listing of totally unrealistic ideas (collaborate on an article on mentorship? Ugh . . .) from med student. (Chester?) Tried to be nice, but told him to work on the existing project. Gave him a hard time about dropping the ball, though I really don't care. Wrote him a recommendation letter.

Had a great idea tonight for an article on mentorship. It's amazing how inspiration can hit you when you least expect it. Maybe I'll let Clarence (?) write it up.