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Carolina Covenant

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Covenant Medical Mentors: Pre-med seminars for Scholars interested in medicine

When Dr. Marion Couch heard about the Carolina Covenant, she immediately wanted to do something to help the program’s students who are interested in becoming doctors. So, she and some other UNC physicians offered to mentor those students.

They give well-rounded and well-grounded advice. “We talk about how to build a life and a career,” says Couch, an Associate Professor in the medical school’s otolaryngology department.

The doctors are concerned that Covenant Scholars may not have access to mentoring and advice that comes easily to other students. Because of their concern, these mentors:

Besides the class, some doctors also have students shadow them in clinic.

The program expands on how some doctors, such as Charles van der Horst, are already informally helping Scholars and other students. In his first contact with students, van der Horst lays out some key advice. “Focus on just the pre-requisites, use resources such as study halls and tutors, and back off too many extracurricular activities,” says the Professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases. He and others try their best to be accessible to students, whether it’s talking on campus, advising on class selection, or directing students toward research opportunities.

The doctors stress an approach that Couch explains as, “Do what you love. Don’t do it for honor, prestige or glory. Have a backup plan, and consider other careers. Enjoy the journey, and get a degree that will allow you to support yourself at each step of the journey.”

Covenant Scholars interested in medicine can find a mentor through many ways. Some volunteer in the hospital before asking a physician to be a mentor. Some read biographies of doctors in different fields, then talk with them.

Arshad Khalid, a Covenant Scholar from Cary, N.C., volunteers at UNC Hospitals in ophthalmology and radiology, and is interested in cardiology. “I want to get an idea of how legitimate my goals are,” Khalid says.

One mentor, Dr. Bruce Cairns, says that early exposure to various health care professions is important. A Distinguished Associate Professor of Surgery and head of the N.C. Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals, Cairns says that students benefit from knowing about options other than medicine such as pharmacy, nursing, or physician assisting.

“The Covenant is so consistent with our mission at the hospital, which is to serve people,” Cairns says. “And to meet the challenges of the future in medicine, we will need people who otherwise might not consider careers in medicine.”

For Cairns, students who are invested in learning about the profession make mentoring enjoyable. “These students really want to be here. I enjoy their energy and their motivation.”

The doctors are motivated in a different way. “We’re excited about this class,” says Couch, a surgical oncologist specializing in head, neck and thyroid surgery. “It is rewarding to reach out to students and make an impact in their lives. That’s why we’re here.”