How New Graduate Optometrists Can Find A Mentor

Being an adult is hard.

It can be a tough transition going from constantly taking orders to finally making decisions for yourself.

Sometimes engineering your own destiny is challenging, and not all it’s cracked up to be. Your safety net can feel like it has fallen away, when at one point there was a hand upheld to catch you everywhere you looked (cue the Full House theme song).

Who do you turn to when the parents, teachers, and coaches guiding you along your life trajectory are no longer calling the shots?

Welcome to the adult world of “mentorship.”

Adults – especially working professionals – rely on mentors to help guide them through life when they need a boost of inspiration, guidance, and reassurance. Mentors are able to provide the advice you need when things get sticky since they have been in your shoes before. Mentors do a variety of things, and this depends largely on the individual – and the industry.

Think about what you’d like to gain from your relationship: clinical pearls, practice management tips, specialty eye care advice, career counseling, or even just life coaching.

The Search Process

Finding a mentor can be done through a variety of means, and you likely already know several people that could serve this role.

Determine someone you’d like to emulate and find a way to get in contact.

Excellent sources of mentors include professors, older colleagues, bosses, relatives, family friends, networking acquaintances, and more.

Optometry school is a great place to form these relationships while you can, since they can be more challenging to strike up after you graduate.

Here are some common places ODs find mentors:

  • School: professors, attending doctors, researchers, support staff, and administrators
  • Clinical Practice: senior doctors, local society meetings, and (young) professional organizations
  • Existing Networks: interesting people from both your undergraduate and graduate institutions
  • Other: service organizations, religious groups, extracurricular clubs, and more

While it is often the case that people form mentor relationships with those they already know, you don’t need to have met your mentor previously! If you have a mutual acquaintance, try to arrange an introduction or another organic way to meet.

Even flagging a potential mentor down and introducing yourself in the appropriate setting can be effective. Social media can also work wonders in helping find the perfect person to give you advice on your targeted area.

Whatever channel you choose in finding your mentor, give them a reason to be interested in you.

Be compelling in what you have to say.

Be bold, be different, and be interesting.

The Approach

As Optometrists, usually our soft skills and chair-side manner are critical to our success. The same can be said when forming a relationship with a potential mentor.

Read the situation.

Approaching a classy, high-powered Clinical Director may require more tact and grace when requesting mentorship than asking your buddy at the local Optometric society. Politely offer to treat them to coffee or a meal, and make your goals known.

You can establish how often you’d like to stay in touch, through what means of communication, and what you both expect from your connection. However, mentorship also does not require a formal relationship with outlined parameters.

If you routinely get advice from someone, newsflash – that person is probably already your mentor! Figure out what makes the most sense in your situation and build a good rapport.

A Two-Way Street

It is important that mentees reciprocate.

New grads in the Millennial generation often get a bad rap for being the “me, me, me” generation. While inter-generational tension is nothing new, don’t fall into the stereotype by taking advice without giving anything in return.

Show your appreciation, and give something back to the relationship.

Mentees have plenty to teach their mentors, so ensure that the bond is mutual. Consider teaching your mentors new clinical or technological skills that could benefit them! Also, be sure to pay it forward. Consider mentoring someone who could benefit from your experience, even if it is as minimal as tutoring or giving select pro-tips.

Last Words

Mentors come in all shapes and sizes, and from all walks of life.

You can even have more than one, in the same or different focus areas. Continue to think critically though; not all advice is necessarily good advice, and carefully choose a mentor that is worth learning from. The benefits of mentorship are far-reaching and long-lasting, and can even be as critical as helping you land your dream job.

Adulting doesn’t have to be so hard when you’re supported by mentors who can show you the ropes along the way.

About Cory Hakanen, OD, MBA

Cory Hakanen, OD, MBA
Dr. Cory Hakanen is an Optometrist and business professional who works primarily in industry roles within eye care and greater healthcare. He resides in Silicon Valley where he is able to put both his OD and MBA degrees to use performing product development, medical writing, and clinical consulting.

2 comments

  1. Gabrielle Szwajca

    Great article. I believe this is so important in order to really grow in our respective career paths. The skill of building networks and communicating will keep our profession strong for years to come.

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