The beginning of my first year of medical school was very difficult for me. I felt completely overwhelmed, lost, and unsure in my ability to succeed, or even to pass my first trimester of classes. I grew closer with my classmates and found that I was not alone in feeling this way, and that most students I spoke with had similar feelings. We got through that first trimester together and have continued to reach each medical-school milestone along the way by supporting each other. Our school offers many resources for students—some specifically for the transition to medical school during the first year. However, I felt like something was missing that would have made this transition easier and would have given us the confidence that we needed to succeed from the beginning. I heard about other medical schools’ physician mentorship programs. These physician mentors are able to provide wisdom, career guidance, and support for students throughout their medical education. This type of program would have made an immeasurable, positive difference in my transition to medical school, so I decided to try to start an osteopathic physician mentorship program at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM).
After winter break of first year, I sent out an interest survey poll to my classmates. The results showed a large interest in physician mentors, so I met with PCOM’s Curriculum Committee chair to get his feedback. I then wrote a proposal and presented it to the Curriculum Committee in February 2016; the committee voted in favor of supporting the program. In April 2016, we met with the dean, who gave us his support and allowed us to include the mentorship program in the faculty’s appointment letters, making it an official part of each faculty DO’s responsibilities. Throughout the summer between first and second year, I worked with two dedicated faculty DO coordinators and one of my classmates to establish the program logistics, write a manual, and compile resources for mentors. We launched the program in August 2016 and enrolled the entire first-year class (about 270 students) and half of the second-year class, along with more than 30 osteopathic physician mentors. Throughout my second year, we sent out feedback surveys each term, held term quality-assurance meetings with the mentors, and made incremental changes to the program. By September 2017, more than 400 first- and second- year students participated in the program with more than 30 mentors, and there was a new student chair leading the program with a committee of students.
Our mentorship program is in its infancy, but there have already been some positive outcomes. Students commented that they feel supported, “knowing that there is someone to talk to who knows what they’ve been through” and can provide the “perspective of being on the other side.” There have also been instances of faculty mentors identifying students in mental health crises and getting them help and the necessary resources before it was too late. There are incredible, compassionate, and dedicated faculty physicians at PCOM; this program only facilitated bringing them together with students earlier and in a more formalized way.
I was fully engaged and dedicated many hours each week to this program. I am passionate about it and the importance of mentorship, so I never felt tired or burnt out. And I am proud of my PCOM community. The strength, resilience, and personal stories of what brought my PCOM peers to osteopathic medicine inspire and motivate me every day. I do not want future PCOM students to ever feel as overwhelmed, lost, unsure, or alone as my classmates and I felt during our first few months of school.
This experience has taught me that dedicating time to things that I am passionate about will not lead to burnout. The way I spend my work hours matter more than the number of hours I work. I intend to carry this lesson with me as a future physician by incorporating my other passions into my career, such as teaching, mentoring younger physicians and students, and working with the community to prevent injury and illness on a population level. I also recognize that none of this would be possible without my dedicated classmates and our faculty champions. Thus, I learned that as a future osteopathic physician, I will always need a supportive team to accomplish any meaningful change and to make any lasting, positive impact.
Written by Emily Eshleman