Objective: Over the course of their education, medical students must develop an identity that involves a deep understanding of professional principles and the skills to apply these ideals. This task is so important that it cannot be left to informal means and should be cultivated by a structured system that is focused on professionalism. The overall goal of our student-mentoring program is to advance the professional development of our students during the first two years of medical school through regular group meetings with skilled, trained faculty facilitators.
Description: We shaped the program to foster meaningful mentoring relationships among students and faculty, facilitate personal reflection, and encourage exploration of larger questions related to professional development. This program has evolved from a model of individual student-faculty pairings that resulted in uneven experiences. It is organized through a new "Master Scholars Program" (MSP), inaugurated in 2001-2002. The MSP features five theme-based societies composed of students and faculty who share interests in the theme (e.g., bioethics/human rights, health policy/public health, arts/humanities in medicine, biomedical/health sciences, medical informatics/biotechnology). Approximately once per month, eight students and two faculty members from each society meet over lunch for student-led discussions on topics related to their own professional development. In the first session, structured exercises enable students to get to know one another and brainstorm a curriculum for the year. In subsequent sessions, student pairs lead discussions on topics of interest to the group ranging from "the role of medical professionals in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks" to "balancing careers in medicine with family." A list of each group's discussion topics is posted on an electronic bulletin board to inform others. Two faculty mentors lead each group to ensure continuity and diversity over the two-year course of their meetings. A total of 57 out of 78 (73%) attended workshops to learn about the program and enhance their facilitation skills. Professional behaviors are explicitly emphasized in the materials outlining expectations of both students and faculty. Students are expected to attend, participate in and lead discussions, be constructive, respectful, and supportive, and accept/act on constructive feedback. Mentors are to facilitate the group's process, and provide feedback and guidance about the students' ideas and passions and the challenges they encounter. The faculty mentors will contribute descriptive material for the dean's letter on each student. We assessed student understanding of the definition of professionalism prior to the mentoring program and will follow up at regular intervals. Formative evaluation of the program includes surveys and focus groups with students and faculty to assess the effectiveness of the group process in accomplishing the stated goals of the program.
Discussion: Our medical school has committed resources, and our faculty and students have given thought, energy, and enthusiasm, to our mentoring program. This innovative new model has the potential to deepen and enrich the culture of medicine by providing a forum and skills for students to reflect on their own professional development and interact in a meaningful way with committed and skilled faculty who share similar interests.