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Early Mentorship Is Crucial

By Todd A. Rubin, MD

In the throes of training, whether medical school, residency, or fellowship, the ever so-called “fork in the road” can sometimes seem more like the glass bridge from the 2021 viral Netflix hit Squid Games. Before matriculating to medical school, I was a promising student at Emory University with goals of becoming a pediatrician or gastroenterologist. During my first year of medical school, I was advised to shadow docs in as many specialties as possible to find my niche. This is where timing, a bit of luck, and the right personality and mentor can truly shape one’s life. Just by chance, I gave orthopaedics a try based on advisor recommendations. I shadowed one of the team docs for the Phillies at the Rothman Institute in P.A. and had that “aha” moment!

The fork in the road for me was really my choice to pursue an externship program the summer between my first and second year of medical school. I applied to two completely separate programs for the summer and was committed to whichever program I was accepted. The first was an immersive medical Spanish experience in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I was already enrolled in the medical Spanish elective at Jefferson and was passionate about honing my skills to better serve the Spanish-speaking community. The second was an orthopaedic externship program at NYU in NYC. As a medical student, the former option was a bit more intriguing, I have to admit. Two months traveling abroad in Argentina! Still a dream of mine, but more and more a distant reality. After a hard look in the mirror and multiple conversations with mentors, I chose the program that would help further my career more than my hobby/travel interest.

The externship program at NYU randomly matched students with mentors in every sub-specialty of orthopaedics. I was fortunate to have been paired with a hand surgeon and shadowed in the clinical/operating room settings. Without hyperbole, this early clinical experience and mentorship propelled my desire to become a hand surgeon. I returned to medical school with a renewed and focused energy in orthoapedic surgery. My desire to go into hand surgery did not waiver throughout residency and led me to where I am professionally today. 

Now in practice for 5 years, I look back and recognize how important early mentorship is in shaping one’s career. Generally speaking, any interaction with a student or resident can have a lasting impact on his/her decision to enter a particular subspecialty. A sour interaction may be the single deterrent for a trainee on the fence. A positive interaction may in fact change someone’s career path, as it did mine. I am thankful for all of the great mentors I have had throughout my career. They continue to inspire me to this day and I look forward to our interactions at courses/annual meetings throughout the year. 

In the end, we all face daily pressures that affect our disposition in a positive or negative way – from the systems in which we practice, insurance companies, and/or life stressors. Those of us that work alongside trainees should be mindful of how our attitudes/cynicism may affect one’s life path knowing that early mentorship may truly alter the course of one’s life!

Todd A. Rubin, MD
Hand and Upper Extremity Surgery 
Hughston Clinic Orthopaedics – Nashville, TN

Comments (3)
Gregory Hill DO,
February 11, 2022 2:33 am

Thanks Dr Rubin for those wonderful comments about mentoring. I am a testament to the fact that those early exposures can change ones life . I worked for a hand surgeon as a PA before I attended medical school . I had a wonderful example of what an excellent Doctor and surgeon should look and act like. I’m a program director of an orthopedic residency in Ohio and I think some of our residents could benefit from some of the examples you cited in your article .
Thanks !


Martha Holley
February 11, 2022 5:16 am

Well said.


Reed Hoyer
February 26, 2022 3:26 am

Great perspective Todd! Thanks for sharing!


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