My Top Ten List of Mentor Health

So I got this notice about another upcoming meeting of the Mentorship committee, about which I posted recently, Finding the Way North: Defining Mentorship « The Practical Psychosomaticist: James Amos, M.D. I’m staffing the Medical-Psychiatry Unit this month, so I might not have time to attend. The agenda includes coming up with a sort of elevator pitch for being a mentor. It might have the following form:

“1.  I think I would be generally be described as a “go to” person for (insert career here).

2.  To become that I had to learn about (insert trials and tribulations here).

3.  I would delighted to share all that I know and guide a mentee in (insert career) and (insert trials and tribulations).”

I’ve been thinking about this one. I’m pretty much the “go to guy” so far about the psychiatry consultation service. I say “so far” because we’ve recently hired an extremely talented new graduate from our combined medical-psychiatry residency program. There’s always a faster gun, and he’ll probably be the one. We’re all really proud of him. Anyway, I’ve been a psychiatric consultant for more years than I care to admit, so I have a fair amount of practical experience. So I’ve accumulated some basic pearls I could teach mentees.

Here’s my top ten list of mentor health:

  1. Humility, although I’m not overboard on this particular virtue as many would probably point out.
  2. Flexibility, which you have to acquire any time you collaborate with medically ill patients who happen to have comorbid psychiatric illness or challenging behaviors, physicians outside of psychiatry, nurses, social workers, lawyers, and administrators. And I did mention lawyers, didn’t I?
  3. White hair, which comes in handy when combined with an avuncular or grandfatherly interpersonal style in which taking the one down position is easy, especially into an easy chair which gets you a little bit lower than eye level with the patient.
  4. System savvy, which you absorb after many years, and which can afford lots of practice in avoiding the pernicious traps of roundsmanship and system gaming.
  5. Geezer humor, a teachable and learnable skill which I use to oil many professional squeaky-hinge type situations all over the hospital, which I enjoy immensely and which probably annoys a lot of younger clinicians.
  6. Pseudosenility, an indispensable maneuver in the middle of the night when I’m taking triage call for the Medical-Psychiatry Unit, when whippersnapper resident physicians are trying to off load patients they see as psychiatric who are often just inconvenient.
  7. Thin-slicing ability, which is a term borrowed from Malcolm Gladwell, (Gladwell, M. (2005). Blink : the power of thinking without thinking. New York, Little, Brown and Co.). This is the knack for sizing up a clinical challenge quickly using the minimum amount of information necessary and can include patient characteristics, health care system barriers, and what’s on the menu for lunch.
  8. Speedy slowness (or slow speediness, whichever you prefer), a sense of the need to sit in the chair with a patient and take the time listen to him or her–which usually doesn’t take as much time as I think it will.
  9. Rational dependency, which means letting other professionals help me who know much more about their field than I ever will , and they include clinical pharmacists, physical and occupational therapists, and neuropsychologists, to name only a few.
  10. Strategic grumpiness which, when combined with white air and pseudosenility, often persuades others to let me have my own way.

Well, that does it. I guess I can sit back and let the mentees crash my door, which is locked because I’m often out in the general hospital, working.