Guiding Medical Students on the Path to Success

Faculty Strengthen Relationship With Students Through Advisory Colleges

By Susan Davis

Mentor Larry Hill, MD, with student Danielle Cipres.

When Noriko Anderson became pregnant during her first year of medical school at UCSF, she faced a number of difficult questions, including whether she could continue going to classes during her third trimester and how she would keep up in the weeks following the birth of her baby. So she turned to Ellen Hughes, MD, PhD, her Advisory College mentor.

“She congratulated me and gave me her full support in whatever I decided to do,” said Anderson, now in her third year. “She encouraged me to make a plan for my second year. She advised me to study early for my Step 1 exam and helped me identify other faculty and staff who could help me. I ended up being able to study for six weeks between my first and second year to get ahead.”

Hughes is one of eight faculty mentors working with students through the School of Medicine's “Advisory Colleges.” There are four Advisory Colleges, each led by two faculty mentors. Each mentor works with about 75 students.

The program is specifically designed to guide students through the wealth of course offerings, career options, and clinical care settings available to them. But it is also designed to help the students develop closer relationships with faculty and other students, and to enhance their personal and professional development.

“By assigning them Advisory College mentors, UCSF is basically saying, 'we value this relationship. We're going to help you get started,’” Hughes said.

Part of a National Trend

UCSF's medical student mentoring program is part of a “broader effort to create and support a culture of mentorship at the university,” said Mitchell Feldman, MD, MPhil, who is the associate vice provost for faculty mentoring and the co-director of the CTSI Mentor Development Program.

It is also part of a national trend toward providing more support for medical students. “Many medical schools are trying out models,” said Maxine Papadakis, MD, the School of Medicine’s associate dean for student affairs. “It's a challenging area, because it can be hard to provide the right kind of mentoring and support for many students with differing needs. But lots of medical schools are experimenting with this now.”

What is different about UCSF's program is the way that the advisory college mentoring system is integrated with competency coaching and Undegraduate Medical Education staff advising.

Competency coaches, for instance, help four students each to “develop clinical skills and discuss larger issues in patient care," noted Phaedra Bell, PhD, the director of Undergraduate Medical Education (UME.). “They also read the MD Portfolios (a self-reflective report) that the students are working on,” she said.

Meanwhile, the three staff members in the UME office function much like advice nurses in a doctor's office, according to Bell. “Anybody can come to us and ask any question, and we will help them figure out where to go for an answer.”

Mentors, coaches, and staff advisors have overlapping abilities to support students in each phase of their education. They can also refer students to UME career advisors, who offer discipline-specific advice as students weigh different career options. And they will gladly refer students to one another for particular issues.

“Our goal is to develop a network of advisors who are related to each other in a meaningful and complementary way,” Bell said. “We want students to feel like they have totally individualized education experiences and that they have a safe place to go at all times.”

Read the full story on the UCSF School of Medicine website.

Photo by Elisabeth Fall/