Mentoring in Medical Education: Modeling from the Movies

23 04 2012

A big part of medical education is mentoring.  The term ‘mentor’ originates from Homer’s the Odyssey and refers to an advisor.   The role of mentors vary, but generally serve to guide mentees through work, support them during the process, keep them grounded and focused on the task at hand, and provide general moral support.

Over the weekend, at the Pritzker Revisit session on Scholarship and Discovery, our own students stated the number one thing to consider when finding a project was finding a great mentor.  How does one find a great mentor?  Well, our students are encouraged to seek “CAPE” mentors- think Superhero mentors.  The mentor should be Capable, Available, have a Project that is of interest to the student, and Easy to get along with.   Capable means that the mentor has the skills to not only be a good mentor, but also to carry out the task or project at hand.  This may sound like odd, but sometimes faculty are so excited to have a medical student work for them, they may make the false assumption that the medical student will help them with tasks (i.e. statistics) that they themselves don’t know.  Availability is especially important as it is the number one reason our students state they had a less than optimal experience in the summer doing scholarly work is that their mentor was not available.  While availability of all doctors is an issue, the question is often whether faculty make themselves available when they can (i.e. answer student email, take phone calls, meetings).  Setting expectations for when and how to meet can be very important.  Ideally, the mentor has a project that is interesting to the student since if the work is not interesting, it will be even harder to make progress.  Last but not least, the mentor has to be easy to get along with – meaning that their style meshes well with their mentees.  Some people simply do not work well together do to different personality types.  So, I often tell our students to consider that when meeting potential mentors or deciding between two mentors.

As I was thinking about ways to highlight effective mentors, I recalled some classic movies with mentoring relationship.  In relooking at these scenes this weekend, it struck me that there are some interesting reasons why they are good mentors that correlate with our model (well some of them are a stretch but they are still fun to watch!).

  • Yoda in Empire Strike Back encourages Luke Skywalker to not just try, but do.  When Luke fails to resurrect the wing fighter, he does not allow Luke to make excuses but instead demonstrates that he can do it showing that he is CAPABLE.  
  • Mr Miyagi with the Karate Kid mentors through teaching small movements related to everyday house chores “wax on, wax off.”  While he is certainly gruff and challenges Daniel, Mr Miyagi also makes himself AVAILABLE to Daniel at that moment and in the future by saying at the end “Come back tomorrow” to continue the training.  
  • Remus Lupin goes so far to use a “simulated” Death Eater to challenge Harry Potter to learn the Patronus charm (and making all standardized patient experiences seem like a cake walk!).  When Harry fails at first, he is patient and nurturing, stating that he did not expect Harry to get it on the first try.  He also makes suggestions to the technique which turn out to be the key.   Since Harry really needs this charm, this is a PROJECT THAT IS OF INTEREST and Harry ultimately succeeds in casting the spell.  
  • Gandelf in Lord of the Rings provides consolation to Frotto during a moment of despair by highlighting that it his job and also showing that Gandelf is sensitive to Frotto’s needs and EASY TO GET ALONG WITH.   

In addition to these highly acclaimed superhero and superstar CAPE mentors, let me know if you know of other model mentors from the movies.

Vineet Arora MD






Where are the Lollipop Men in Healthcare?

9 04 2012

I recently watched Dr. Atul Gawande on video describe how what American healthcare needs is pit crews and not cowboys.  This sentiment is also memorialized in his thought-provoking writings for the New Yorker.

Interestingly, Dr. Gawande is not the first person I have heard to suggest such a thing.  A colleague named Dr. Ken Catchpole actually studied Formula 1 pit crews and used the information to guide improvements in pediatric anesthesia handoffs.  His observations were astounding and really highlighted how the culture of medicine is different from Formula 1. In Formula 1, pit crews have a ‘fanatical’ approach to training that relies on repitition.   In healthcare, the first time we often do something is “on the fly”.  Moreover, on-the-job training usually means ‘checking the box’ by attending an annual patient safety lecture.   Perhaps the most important was the role of the “lollipop man” in pit crews.   And yes, even thought it’s a funny name, it’s a critical job.   As shown in the video, the Lollipop man is responsible for signaling and coordinating to the driver the major steps of the pit stop.  When it is safe to step on the gas, the Lollipop man will signal to the driver.  Sounds like a thing so perhaps it can be automated.  Wrong.  When Ferrari tried replacing the Lollipop man with a stop light that signaled the driver, the confusion created (does amber mean stop or go?) led to a driver leaving the pit with his gas still connected.  Quickly after this incident, Ferrari announced it would go back to the tried and trusted Lollipop “hu”man.

So, who are the Lollipop men (or women) in healthcare?  Turns out that Dr. Catchpole and his team observed that it was often unclear who was leading the handoff process that they were observing in healthcare.  With team training and system reengineering, Dr. Catchpole’s team was able to reorganize the pediatric handover so there was a Lollipop man (anesthesiologist) at the helm.

While these handoffs represent a critical element of healthcare communication in a focused area, it is symbolic of a larger problem in healthcare – we are still missing “Lollipop men” to coordinate healthcare for patients across multiple sites and specialties.  This is even more critical on the 2-year anniversary of healthcare reform and this month’s match results. At a time when we need to cultivate and train more “Lollipop men” to coordinate care for patients, we have had stable numbers of students who enter primary care fields.   And like the lessons from the Ferrari team, it is doubtful that a computer (even Watson who is now working in medicine apparently) will be able to do the job of a Lollipop man.

So, how can we recruit more Lollipop men?  While it is tempting to blame the rise or fall of various specialties and market forces, it is important to recognize that being this is a difficult job to do when the Lollipop is broken or even nonexistent.  Without the tools to execute the critical coordination that Lollipop men rely on, they cannot do their job.  So, the first order of business to ensure that the Lollipop, or an infrastructure to coordinate care for patients through their race that is their healthcare journey, exists.  As the Supreme Court debates the future of the Accountable Care Act, there is no greater time to highlight the importance of the Lollipop.

–Vineet Arora MD








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