“Mentoring is to support and encourage people to manage their own learning in order that they may maximize their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be.” Eric Parsloe, The Oxford School of Coaching & Mentoring.
During my 3rd year of medical school, I had a sort of “identity crisis” as I was trying to choose a specialty. It seemed all my classmates were certain of what they were going to choose: surgery, pediatric neurology, ophthalmology, etc., but I liked all my rotations and could see the pros and cons of each. I discussed my indecision with one of my mentors, Dr. Michelfelder, a family physician, who expressed empathy and told me to choose whatever field fit my values, interests, and made me happy; only then would I be the kind of doctor I wanted to be, and give the best care to my future patients. He was such an impressive physician and teacher, I almost wanted to choose family medicine just because I wanted to be like him! But after much reflection and internal debate, I realized that besides having this great role model, I really did enjoy family medicine because I realized it best aligned with my passions about primary care, social justice, and preventive medicine. I enjoyed forming relationships with my patients and wanted to not just treat their diseases, but to hear their stories and learn from them.
As a full-spectrum family medicine physician, I can say that I am happy with my choice. I enjoy taking care of entire families and being part of their lives. This past November, I was able to serve on a medical mission team in Nicaragua, and utilized several family medicine skills: giving prenatal care, draining abscesses, ameliorating chronic pain, treating a variety of infectious diseases, and teaching basic public health. It was a humbling and rewarding experience that increased my gratitude for all I take for granted here in the USA, and also for the medical training I can use to help our global community.
It is an amazing privilege and honor to gain the trust of my patients, to empower them to make healthy choices, and to help them navigate a complicated health care system. Even though it can be challenging to be a “generalist,” it forces me to keep my medical knowledge up to date, which then satisfies my intellectual curiosity and desire to take care of patients from every culture, socioeconomic group, and background.
I have been extremely fortunate in having mentors who encouraged and supported me throughout my life, who helped me discover my unique passions and talents, who believed in me and told me to never give up, and who taught me how to be a more effective teacher, healer, and mentor myself. This may sound cliché, but I believe that people come into our lives for a reason, and at just the right time. I have had students, patients, and seemingly random people I have met at the grocery store, airport, library, meetings, etc. who have taught me valuable lessons and inspired me. I hope that I can also be a mentor for my students, residents, and patients; I hope I can assist and encourage them when they need it most. Being a family physician brings me joy, and I am forever grateful to Dr. Michelfelder, a true “guiding light”, who enabled me to be where I am today.
Marlana Li, MD is a Family Medicine Physician and a clinical professor at the University of Utah School of Medicine, Department of Family Preventive Medicine.