Mentorship in Medicine: Jennifer Joe, MD

The American Resident Project is reaching out to industry leaders to tell us about their first-hand experiences with mentorship in medicine. First up, CEO of Medstro.com, Jennifer Joe, MD, tells us about her experiences:

The American Resident Project: The journey to becoming a doctor is notoriously long and difficult. What major challenges have you faced and what resources enabled you to push through? 

Jennifer Joe: Growing up an American-born Chinese woman in the hot belly of Mississippi before there was internet and email was really a special, isolating, bewildering experience. In books, I read that all people were created equal, but I went to a no-blacks allowed (yes, very common when I was growing up in the 1980s in Mississippi) private school where I was increasingly ostracized for not acknowledging group allegiance by using racial slurs. At age 14, I made the decision to leave that school before something really bad happened, which was also the first time I made a grown-up decision contradictory to my parents. 

Years later, I again repeated a similar, though not as intense, but also isolating, bewildering experience in medical school. As we all know, there is strict hierarchy in medicine, often referred to as the “hidden culture” of medicine. Being vocal about something that seems inappropriate is often not tolerated (though that seems to be changing). 

While in medical school, I didn’t have great resources. Talking to my college friends over the phone was probably the best. But I was severely depressed and angry for most of medical school.

Now, I would tell you to read Dr. Marty Makary’s Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won’t Tell You and How, and you will know that you are actually among the majority if you have the same isolating feelings. These days, with technology, the Internet and social media, physicians are being more vocal about their emotionally tough and isolating experiences. You share; you bond; and you feel that you’re not alone. Ajay Major’s in-Training.org is a fantastic online magazine by medical students for medical students, focusing on the human side of medicine. The American Resident Project publishes and empowers students’ and residents’ voices. This is also why I created Medstro.com, the social network for doctors and medical students.

Having an empowered voice is HUGE. Not only has this been huge for medical training reform, it has also been huge for reform in how the American health care system treats patients.

ARP: Who has been a mentor to you throughout your career? How did you find your mentor and how has he or she been helpful? 

JJ: I did eventually find amazing mentors in Dr. Herman Taylor, PI of The Jackson Heart Study; Dr. Joseph Verbalis, sodium king; and Dr. Julien Seifter, electrolyte master and book author. Finding these needles in a haystack who believed in me, empowered me and ultimately wrote me amazing recommendations that helped a potentially flunky student (though I had top one percent standardized test scores, I didn’t do well in the medical systems) finish her training at supposedly the top nephrology program in the world, the Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s combined program.

ARP: How important do you think it is to have a mentor(s) in medicine? 

JJ: Make no mistake about it—a good mentor can and will be your savior. (There are lots of booby-traps. Everyone will eventually be caught in one.) He or she will also push you to be the best you can be.

ARP: What core qualities do all good mentors share? 

JJ: Honesty, patience and understanding. But it’s key to find the right mentor for you.

ARP: What can a mentee do to get the most out of a mentoring relationship?

JJ: Meet with your mentor regularly. Set a time and stick to it. Monthly may be easier than weekly. But make it regular, always be there and keep the relationship going over time. 

ARP: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

JJ: That’s hard and personal to each individual. For me, it was when my business partner said, “Quit traditional medicine. Let’s start a company.” I was already starting to feel empowered with the training and encouragement I received during nephrology fellowship. But oh my, I feel alive and inspired now, being surrounded by innovation and entrepreneurship. This generation of doctors is going to fix American health care, and I want to be here to see it happen and to help give you the tools that I didn’t have.


*About Jennifer Joe, MD:

Jennifer Joe, MD, is a Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) nephrology graduate turned physician entrepreneur. She is founder and CEO of Medstro.com, a new and innovative social network for physicians, and founder and Editor-in-Chief of MedTechBoston.com, an online media property that covers medical innovation and technology with all original content. 

Dr. Joe still regularly works the emergency room and urgent care clinics at the Veterans Affairs hospitals in Boston. She believes that you have to be in the trenches to have true insight into where America’s health care system is going. Based in Kendall Square in Cambridge, the nexus of the MIT/Harvard/MGH/Industry medtech and biotech communities, and most arguably the medtech Silicon Valley, she is best known for harnessing her inside knowledge of stealth projects being pioneered in the Boston academic hospitals and the community to create meaningful discussions and connections to accelerate collaborations—such as being the creator of Boston’s first ever Google Glass Challenge. A missing component to real acceleration is involving traditional academic silos (a topic which she regularly discusses at national conferences like SXSW), and thus she has continued active involvement in the Massachusetts Medical Society Committee on IT and Committee on Communications and is the Massachusetts American College of Physicians Information Officer.