Urology mentors: For many, the quest begins at home

January 8, 2016

mentors may come in several disguises, including instructors from whom we have learned, clinicians whom we have observed, or researchers under whom we have worked. For many, however, the quest to find a role model begins at home. Learn more

Nirmish Singla, MDUrology Times

 

In a letter dating back to the 17th century, Sir Isaac Newton wrote, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Indeed, the foundation of our modern experiences and road to future discoveries in science and medicine rely heavily on the accomplishments of our predecessors. Along a similar thread, when choosing to pursue a medical career and a particular specialty within medicine, mentors often play an influential role. 

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Such mentors may come in several disguises, including instructors from whom we have learned, clinicians whom we have observed, or researchers under whom we have worked. For many, however, the quest to find a role model begins at home.

As a resident, I have interacted with many role models along my medical journey, which serendipitously led me on the path to urology. As the son of an academic urologist, however, it’s hard to deny that my father has and will continue to serve as my own giant. Like many offspring of physicians, I like to believe my choice to pursue a medical degree and training in urology was spurred by an independent and unpressured, albeit inspired, decision-as it should be. Among the numerous benefits of having a physician family member are guidance, support, and visibility. Certainly, guidance navigating through an increasingly complicated training process and support throughout the duration of training and beyond are invaluable.

Early visibility is particularly advantageous for a specialty such as urology. Many students find that their attraction to urology developed in the latter portion of their medical school training and only after actively seeking out opportunities for exposure. Indeed, urology, as with many specialized fields, often receives limited emphasis in the standard medical school curriculum and must be selected as an elective rotation. In fact, by the time many physicians graduate from medical school, their exposure to urology is minimal.

Having a family member in urology affords the unfiltered opportunity to witness and understand the life of a urologist outside the hospital setting, thereby enabling one to make a truly informed decision prior to a lifelong commitment to the field. In addition, the choice of practice setting following training-whether continuing the family business in the private world or staying in academia-can be informed in a similar manner.

Next: "I discovered quickly that having two generations of urologists in a single household is not a novel concept."

 

I discovered quickly that having two generations of urologists in a single household is not a novel concept. Broadly speaking, this idea holds ancient roots in the medical field as a whole. For example, Hippocrates-considered by many to be the father of Western medicine-was himself the grandson, son, and father of physicians.

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Fast forwarding to the early roots of modern urology, one of the most famous examples of father-and-son urology followings is evident in the Hinman family-the same from whom our foundational surgical atlases derive. David Bloom, MD, very nicely captures the biographies of both Dr. Frank Hinman, Sr. (Urology 2003; 61:876-81) and Dr. Frank Hinman, Jr. (Urology 2001; 57:843-6) and alludes to the upbringing of the latter, mentioning that “Urology did not dominate the household” and noting that his siblings were free to pursue either non-urologic medical careers or non-medical careers altogether.

I have come across several urologists in both private and academic practice who have descended from urologists. From anecdotal experience, I have found that the number of trainees-both medical students applying into urology and urology residents alike-who hail from families with urologic representation is quite remarkable. While objective data on the rates of this phenomenon in our field are lacking-particularly in comparison to corresponding rates in other medical specialties-the apparently high prevalence remains a curious observation. Exchanging experiences with other urologists’ kin reveals similar elements in our respective upbringings and provides a different level of relatability.

For example, I can remember my father’s old Journal of Urology collection spanning our bookshelves (alongside his now antiquated edition of “Campbell’s Urology”); I recall visiting him in the hospital during his call shifts when he was a resident (long before ACGME duty hours took effect, of course); and I remember inadvertently smudging his projector slides before an important presentation without even knowing what they were. (To this day, I wonder how those were even produced.)

As residents, we encounter unfamiliar territory on a daily basis, whether in the operating room, clinic, wards, emergency room, or even during educational conferences. The ability to retrospectively reflect on these scenarios with my father undoubtedly enhances my training experience as a whole, and I recognize that now, perhaps more than before, I capitalize on the opportunity to seek his advice. Indeed, as I progress in my training, I have had the distinct pleasure of witnessing the father-son dynamic evolve throughout each stage, and I have gained a greater appreciation for the path that my father conquered independently.

Our field is in the midst of an exciting time with newer technologies carving out an unparalleled niche for the incoming generation of urologists. As residents, we must emerge as independent thinkers, innovators, and the next leaders of our field after completing our training, but we also must certainly pay our due respects to the giants before us, without whom urology would not be where it is today.

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