Establishing Standards for Communication: Professional Networking Advice for Medical Students in the Midst of a Global Pandemic - Annals of Internal Medicine: Fresh Look Blog


Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Establishing Standards for Communication: Professional Networking Advice for Medical Students in the Midst of a Global Pandemic

Attending physicians are stressed. Fellows are stressed. Residents are stressed. Medical students, well, we can cause stress.

It is no secret: Connecting with persons whom you believe fill the idealistic role of “who you want to be” can go a long way. For medical students in particular, networking with physician mentors can open doors that may lead to research opportunities, committee seats, elective rotations, and, sometimes, residency positions (1). However, during this evolving pandemic, communicating with physicians from afar has proven to be a challenge.

It often goes unspoken, but many medical students have this internal guilt that arises from feeling like a nuisance to physicians. Perhaps this is due to our presumption that physicians are constantly busy (2). After all, they must manage clinical responsibilities, maintain personal relationships, and find time for self-care. It seems these demands could rapidly fill the schedule of even the most energetic physician. Students recognize the strain that is put on physicians, so the last thing we want to do is distract them from other responsibilities that we deem more important than communicating with us. This guilt may be legitimized by our instinct to begin e-mails with, “Sorry to bother you, but….” However, this feeling we experience may not always hold merit. Physicians are often gratified by assuming a mentor role. Studies have found that physicians who mentor medical students are happier, more resilient, and at a decreased risk for burning out (3, 4). It is clear that both parties can benefit from this relationship.

So, when it comes to medical students communicating with mentors, where is the tipping point? When are students more of a burden than a blessing? The truth is, it depends. It is important for the pair to have open and honest conversations early in the development of the relationship. Work to establish boundaries and expectations for both the frequency and avenue of communication. By doing this, medical students will likely perceive less guilt, and their mentor will avoid unnecessary strain. If this is done sooner than later, the relationship will likely flourish.

Communicating with mentors can be challenging, especially if there are no standards. With so many ways to professionally network (e-mail, video chat, and social media), it is important to build mentor–mentee relationships on a foundation that includes clear boundaries for communication. Having a strong professional mentor is invaluable. So, don’t waste another second. Go out and find a mentor! However, as you begin to communicate, do everyone a favor and discuss expectations.


  1. Geraci SA, Thigpen SC. A review of mentoring in academic medicine. Am J Med Sci. 2017;353:151-157. [PMID: 28183416] doi:10.1016/j.amjms.2016.12.002
  2. Clarfield AM. My magnanimous mentor. Ann Intern Med. 2012;157:452-3. [PMID: 22986381] doi:10.7326/0003-4819-157-6-201209180-00012
  3. Harolds JA. Quality and safety in health care, part XLIX: mentoring, coaching, and burnout. Clin Nucl Med. 2019;44:566-567. [PMID: 31158104] doi:10.1097/RLU.0000000000002375
  4. Menzin AW, Kline M, George C, et al. Toward the quadruple aim: impact of a humanistic mentoring program to reduce burnout and foster resilience. Mayo Clin Proc Innov Qual Outcomes. 2020;4:499-505. [PMID: 33083698] doi:10.1016/j.mayocpiqo.2020.05.001

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