Next Generation is a BWH Clinical & Research News (CRN) column penned by students, residents, fellows and postdocs. This month’s column is written by Cathy Hao, BSC, third-year medical student at Harvard Medical School who is currently doing her anesthesiology rotation at BWH.

Margaret Costello, PhD, RN (left) and Cathy Hao (right).

Margaret Costello, PhD, RN (left) and Cathy Hao (right).

They say the third year of medical school is the hardest. With the transition from classrooms to the clinical setting, students have the opportunity to experience care in a whole new environment, taking what they learned in class and bringing it to the real world. For me, that transition was exciting and eye-opening. It was exciting to witness patients receiving care – it reminded me of why I want to become a doctor. And it was eye-opening because I realized how much I have yet to learn.

In medicine, we students learn by training with seasoned physicians and health professionals. I am grateful to have many mentors from different parts of the medical school and the hospital, all of whom have contributed to my learning in different ways. Without them, students like me wouldn’t be able to grow and become great care providers.

One of my most influential mentors has been Margaret Costello, PhD, RN, a clinical nurse on Tower 15. We were matched in June through the BWH Nursing – Medical Student Mentorship Program, which aims to build understanding and trust between medical students and nurses. This is an important mission because nurses and physicians work alongside one another day in and day out. Yet before this program —after working at the hospital for months— I knew very little about what nurses do.

Margaret and I usually get together during my break while I am at BWH. Sometimes, we meet weekly and sometimes, several weeks (or more) go by without a meeting. The mentorship program is structured to meet my needs as a busy student and hers as a busy clinician, so we both appreciate having the flexibility to see each other as often as we are able. Whenever I have a question or need her advice, Margaret is there. When we meet, we discuss work, school and the hospital, as well as our families and social lives. No topic is off-limits.

Through my relationship with Margaret, I have learned so much about the hospital, patient care, medicine and the nursing profession. Nurses are critically important for many reasons. They often spend a significant amount of time with patients and are able to form a close relationship with them. Nurses build trust and open lines of communication with patients and their families. And they also carry out many important steps in each patient’s care plan. Therefore, a strong partnership and sense of understanding between physicians and nurses are paramount to patients receiving the care that they need.

Through this mentorship, Margaret says she has also learned a lot from me, chiefly about medical school. She tells me that she never quite grasped the rigor of the training that medical students undergo before becoming doctors and has developed a new appreciation for my chosen profession. That’s what makes our relationship special — it’s mutually beneficial. Studies show that this type of interprofessional collaboration and relationship-building improves outcomes for patients.

I am fascinated by education and want to know more about nursing school. In the future (maybe when finished with my own schooling), I hope to attend lectures or audit courses that are aimed at nurses. I often wonder why nurses and doctors are educated in silos, though they work side-by-side. Margaret, who teaches at Simmons College School of Nursing, has inspired me to incorporate teaching and mentorship in my career. Someday, I want to help students reach their potential, just like she is helping me reach mine.