Be an advocate, not a gatekeeper

This  Huffpost article prompted me to think about some of the things I learned from my 27 years experience of working with students at the University of Washington School of Medicine, one of the country's 10 best medical schools.  Having advised thousands of students aspiring to become doctors, nurses, lawyers, dentists, engineers, I have acquired a few pearls of wisdom on how to work effectively with students.   Reframing the conversation is so important if we are to change the way we support and mentor our students into successful careers.  We do want them to succeed, right?  Then our job as advisers/coaches/teachers is to help them get there.

Asking students and parents about their hopes and dreams is crucial.  The most successful students I know have been able to clearly articulate their vision for their future, their aspirations, their dreams. Asking "What are your hopes and dreams for your self or your child" is a great way to start that conversation.  Sometimes it helps to ask it a different way, like "What would an ideal day or week be like for you, 10, 20 years from now?"  "What would you be doing if you knew you could not fail?"  I created an advising sheet that ranged 6 years with blanks where the years should be!  Why?  Because sometimes students from poor, difficult, complex situations need more than 4 or even 5 years to finish a college education, much less obtain an MD.  I once had a student come back for advising last year.  The last time I saw her was 17 years before.  I asked her what happened in between, why did she wait so long to come back?  She said she got pregnant right after our meeting and promised herself she would revisit her dream of becoming a doctor after her son was old enough. She came back to see me.  Today she is working full-time and taking classes on the side.  We start where they are.

Which includes asking yourself why you are there.  What is your intention?  What are your hopes and dreams for this student?

Be an advocate, not a gatekeeper.  This is the simplest way I can boil down the mindset you must have when working with students.  Beyond being a catchy phrase, it isn't that easy.  As human beings, we have biases that affect the decisions we make.  Are you more interested in "finding" the student who has a good fit for your school?  Or are you more interested in trying to find the best fit for this student, even if that school is not your own.  Are you unnecessarily stereotyping this student as "at risk" or "diamond in the rough" because they remind you of someone else?  It's ok to admit it, I do it and others do it.