Blog: The Value of Mentorship, by Dr. Simran Randhawa

Value of mentorship

During my formative years, I watched my grandparents succumb to cancer, which inspired in me an ardor for medicine and oncology. I grew up in Abu Dhabi, where a career in medicine did not fit into the standard societal mold for women. I had an ambition but I lacked a strong support system. My self-motivation and hard work got me through medical school, but surgical residency, as we know, is a different beast. I knew I needed more structured guidance. As an intern, I looked up to my chief resident as a role model and tried to selectively emulate her style — soon I realized, however, that I needed to develop my own form, and I would need a guiding hand to steer me in the right direction.

I recognized that I needed a mentor who could help me navigate the complex journey of a career in surgery. It was only by chance that I came across the Women in Thoracic Surgery (WTS) organization and instantly I was hooked. I read inspiring stories of women in the traditionally male-dominated field of thoracic surgery and eventually met my mentor, Dr. Erkmen – She is currently the Director of the Thoracic Surgery Residency Program at Temple University Hospital. I felt her journey was inspirational, and I was curious to learn more about it.

I initiated a few meetings with her and quickly realized how we shared common goals and interests. I was confident that she would be a great mentor to me. Over the years, she has consistently pushed my thinking and ensured that I was maximizing my potential. Often, I’d vent to her about certain stressful experiences — usually on my trauma rotation. Looking back, I realize how she has always listened to me patiently and provided me with honest and constructive feedback. I was fortunate to have a great mentor, and I have come to learn a few things from my experiences:

We should take ownership of our journey –  It’s important to realize that the mentor is not the one with all the answers, but someone who has been through a similar journey and can help you qualify your ideas. It is up to you to take ownership of your journey. It’s important to set  ambitious goals that may be at the limit of feasibility. A mentor can provide perspective of what goals are feasible, and what the stepping stones to that goal are.  In the end, the hustle is yours. The beauty of mentorship is that your success is shared.

Be open to feedback and honest communication: The key to successful mentorship is clear, honest, two-way communication.  It’s important to ask for feedback and consistently work on it to iron out areas that need attention.  I remember that early on as a PGY-4, I asked Dr. Erkmen – how to be a stellar chief resident. Dr. Erkmen reiterated that I should lean on my strengths – which was to consistently develop a cordial working relationship with the staff, while also earning their respect. She gave me advice on how to walk this tightrope and consistently gave me feedback. In the end, we celebrated our combined success when my Program Director offered me the Administrative Chief Resident Position.

Mentorship is a two-way street:  One should always strive to contribute in a way that both parties are able to grow and learn in the process.  Now that I’ve had the opportunity to mentor some young women, I realize that by spending more time with younger, upcoming professionals, I am able to recognize strengths and weaknesses in my style of leadership and consistently work on them to become a better mentor and a better leader.

We can/should have multiple mentors –  It’s always good to have multiple mentors who can provide varied constructive feedback to you. It’s important to appreciate their individuality and learn from each mentorship experience.

For me, I’ve had different mentors through various part of my journey, ranging from my time as a professional Indian dancer (Bhangra) to medical school and residency.  I still reach out to my mentors  — even if it’s just to check on how they are doing. I think being open to feedback and consistently seeking out advice from the right people helps you grow as a leader.

Pay it forward –  Lastly, receiving mentorship is only half the puzzle. Women surgeons continue to remain underrepresented in the field.Thus it’s important to mentor the next round of medical students and residents regardless of gender. Everyone should become accustomed to seeing accomplished women in leadership positions helping to build a community of future surgeons. Looking back, I feel I could never repay any of my mentors for their guidance. I want to try my best to pay it forward by mentoring more women like me from rigid societal backgrounds and encourage them to take the risks, persevere through hard times and attain success in this competitive field.

The WTS offers some excellent mentorship opportunities, through “Find a WTS mentor” or complete this easy form!


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Using this form, individuals may apply for mentorship from the WTS
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