“I’m not sure I’m cut out for medical school.”

The noontime chatter of the Johns Hopkins Bayview’s main cafeteria filled the silence as I struggled to come up with more words to say. A familiar burning sensation grew behind my eyes.

drowning-man_iStock_000037742774_IllustrationAcross the table, Dr. Janet Record, my Colleges Advisory Program advisor and mentor, sat and waited patiently. I suddenly felt ashamed that I might cry in front of her. Over the past two years that I had known Dr. Record, I had reached out to her numerous times, sometimes with good news, other times with fear and anxiety. Now, halfway through an exhausting clerkship, I was becoming overwhelmed by new feelings of inadequacy and doubt. Did I really have what it takes to become a physician?

These thoughts stemmed from a small seed of fear deep inside: a fear that my current fatigue, feelings of callousness and paucity of knowledge compared to my colleagues might result in years of similar experiences, and ultimately a future as an unqualified and even dangerous physician.

Dr. Record’s kind voice broke the silence.

“Stephanie, why don’t you tell me a little more about what you mean and what you’ve been thinking?”

As Dr. Record nodded and acknowledged my experiences, validating them in her gentle way, I began to open up, tears running down my face. She shared some of her own past struggles and encouraged me from her perspective — as a now practicing physician who was once a medical student — to practice self-care and reduce the amount of pressure I had put on myself to “succeed as a medical student” during the remainder of the clerkship.

Over the next half hour, we brainstormed concrete ways that I could use to set new goals for myself, improve my study habits and contribute more to my team on the wards. The sunlight filtering through the windows surrounded us in a warm embrace. Suddenly, I no longer felt so overwhelmed.

How did I meet Dr. Record? In fact, I was assigned to Dr. Record’s mentoring group on the very first day of medical school. As part of the Colleges Advisory Program at Johns Hopkins, the mentoring group — known fondly as a “molecule” — is composed of one faculty member and five medical students. The faculty member checks in with his/her molecule throughout the members’ four years of medical school and provides guidance, assists with career planning and teaches clinical skills.

Dr. Record has walked with me through both personal and professional issues — from work-life balance to dealing with poor study habits to encouraging me to embrace my passions. Moreover, I was absolutely touched when she managed to make it to my wedding during the summer after my first year of medical school.

From inviting me to shadow her in the hospital to having my molecule over at her house to meet her husband and children, Dr. Record has generously opened her life up as an example of how one might pursue a career in medicine. It is because of the influence of life mentors like her that I have been able to manage the ups and downs of medical school and in the process, learn how to become a better role model and mentor for others.

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