In the fourth installment of this new regular feature of AACAP News, Prakash Thomas, a ## year at ##, describes his experience as a part of the AACAP Medical Student and Resident Mentorship Program in San Diego in October 2006. I welcome Anne Fredericson as new co-editor and thank Andres Martin for his continued commitment to AACAP Mentorship initiatives. As this column continues, we are eager to feature your writing about how mentorship has mattered in your career development. Contributions from trainees—medical students, general psychiatry and child psychiatry residents, or research fellows—are especially encouraged.
Susan Milam Miller, M.D.
Anne Frederickson, M.D.
The small group mentoring sessions reminded me of what I had already learned, but forgot. Yet in life, as in therapy, one must be reminded multiple times about the simplest things that make one’s life move forward. At this conference, the timely reminder was regarding mentorship. Even the ancients tell of this vital relationship. From the Hindu tradition, the sacred epic, the Bhagavad Gita, tells of the guidance Krishna gives to Arjuna when he is at a crossroads in his life. Many traditions emphasize this connection between one who has walked the path, and one who has just begun. But the word ‘mentor’ originates from the Greek poet Homer, who, in the epic, “The Odyssey,” describes an old friend who guides young Telemachus in search of his lost father, Odysseus. This wise man’s name is Mentor. They embark together on a boat to scour the islands of the Mediterranean. He provided guidance to the myopic Telemachus in his struggle to discover his father, his heritage, and his inheritance.
Let me stress this point here. Mentor did not guide Telemachus to discover the riches of plundered Troy, rather he guided the young man’s yearning for his father and heritage. Perhaps the same can be applied to mentorship, which guides us to understand the inheritance within us and our full potential in this chosen profession.
The primary theme in our small group was about transitions. We were adult residents pondering a child and adolescent fellowship; and we were child fellows pondering what comes after graduation. The anxiety that held us, and captivated our conversation, was the next step. Will I be able to meet the demands of a child fellowship? What will I do when, after ten years of medical education, I finally graduate? What do I want to do once I am not under the protective aegis of a residency?
The most reassuring words our mentor, Dr. Mark Riddle, gave us were those of validation: “This period as your fellowship ends and you anticipate professional choices, is the most difficult transition in your professional life.” Yes. We need to ponder our potential, our ambitions, our families; we need to ponder what it is we want. Instead of a syllabus, GMEC requirements, we have to look inward—even difficult for psychiatrists—and decipher the priorities for our lives.
Further reassurance from Dr. Riddle helped buttress our courage: “I have not met a child psychiatrist who was unhappy with his career.” We need to know that, during this turbulent period of development, our struggle was important and meaningful, and that, in the end, we would encounter fulfillment.
After such crucial moments of discussion during our three days’ of lunchtime meetings, we were liberated to speak of the challenges of child and adolescent psychiatry in general: The dearth of people in our specialty, the challenge to serve more children, the role of the child psychiatrist as consultant or educator, the public perception of our profession.
However, I return to the role of mentor in speaking words—and not just words, but presence—during our times of anxious pondering: “After all this training, what will I do, what will I be?” I wonder what Telemachus was pondering upon the absence of his father: “My father, Odysseus, is a warrior and hero; but in this time of crisis, what will I do, what am I?” But there was Mentor saying, “Climb aboard, for I will accompany you in this search and guide you
Prakash Thomas, a ## year at ##.
Susan Milam Miller, M.D., is recent graduate of the UC Davis Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Program and a staff psychiatrist with the Sonoma County Mental Health Division in Santa Rosa, CA; she can be reached by email at email@example.com.
Anne Frederickson is a first-year child and adolescent psychiatry resident at LIJMC/Hillside in Glen Oaks, New York and serves at the John Schowalterr Resident Represenative to AACAP Council. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Drs. Milam Miller and Frederickson are part of the Medical Student, Resident and Early Career Psychiatrist Committee of the AACAP.