Alumni mentor program proves to be more than just career advice

Dr Shane Nanayakkara is a cardiologist at Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital and researcher at Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute. As a Monash alumnus, Shane has long appreciated the value of mentoring and has had the opportunity this year to give back through the Sir John Monash Mentoring Program. In  2016,  he  mentored  Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (Honours) student, Emma Gard.

Dr Shane Nanayakkara
Dr Shane Nanayakkara

Hailing from Shepparton, Shane graduated from Medicine at Monash in 2008. When he began studying in 2004, the modernised medical curriculum had recently debuted, giving him exposure to innovative teaching methods and brand new facilities. Following two pre-clinical years at the Clayton Campus, Shane  then  completed  his  clinical training at The Alfred, where he continued on as a junior doctor. He rotated back to his hometown several times, where he developed an improved understanding and renewed respect for rural healthcare. With most of Emma’s contacts in the health field being students her  own  age,  Shane’s  hands on experience in rural practice gave Emma a new perspective that otherwise would not have been available to her.

Coming back to Monash as a teaching associate in March 2016 while starting his PhD, Shane felt that the teaching he received was so important, particularly in the early stages of their career. He joined the Sir John Monash Mentoring Program; a formalised one-on-one program building on his previous experiences  as  an  informal  mentor to the students rotating under him in the hospital environment.

Shane recalls that medicine is full of transitions – from pre-clinical to clinical, undergraduate to graduate, and junior doctor to senior doctor – and says that it can be scary for students to decide what to focus on as they progress. “These decisions can change your entire life -  how  are  students  supposed to choose what part of medicine is most important? As someone who has been through the experience very recently, the chance to pass on the lessons I have learnt is a great opportunity.” Emma says that students are “all a little lost but Shane was fantastic. I had  a  lot  of  questions about the course progression, specialty training, and the differences between hospitals; he had a wealth of knowledge about all of this. He offered guidance on how I should go about my next years in a way that will prepare me well for internships and beyond. I'm feeling far more confident  about  where  I'm  headed now than I was eight months ago.”

As a mentor, Shane sees his role as multifactorial; helping his mentees develop those specific day to day skills needed to thrive in a hospital environment, while giving perspective to the bigger picture of their careers and lives in general. The benefits for Emma included getting to see the inner workings  of  the  hospital  where Shane also passed on tips for looking up patient records and deciphering doctors’ notes. Coincidentally, Emma will be completing her placement at the Alfred in 2018 so she takes with her an advantage when she makes the wards her home.

“Students can find the hospital environment intimidating - I certainly did at times,” says Shane. “Having a mentor to ask questions and give support can be quite useful. We can talk about the uncertainties of their future and I can provide career development advice or just how to approach  medical  life  in  general.”

Shane sees his participation with the Sir John Monash Mentoring Program to be long term and says one of the best parts about it is the flexibility and ability to provide a decade of advice from an early stage. “Mentoring allows me to pass on the lessons learned from my journey. Hopefully I can  help  Emma  by  giving her my perspective, and point her in the right direction toward other helpful opinions – in turn, she will help the next generation.”

For Emma, the mentoring experience has “only deepened my desire to go into this field. I'm definitely more driven now to pursue this path. Meeting someone who is in the exact career path you're planning on helps you to envision where you want to be in ten years’ time. It's a fantastic program,  and  I'd  like  to one day be as helpful to a slightly lost and confused university student as Shane has been to me.”