Where Mentoring Works: James Dang and Dana Peterson, Ph.D.

James Dang has many reasons for his loyalty to NEOMED, but one tops the list.

“I always feel like I belong,” says Dang, a second-year College of Medicine student. “The community here is really encouraging and uplifting. I never feel afraid to ask for help or afraid to go talk to someone.” Dang is a student leader for six student organizations on campus.

Friends, supportive classmates and faculty, and one mentor in particular have helped Dang adjust well to the rigors of studying medicine.

“When you start medical school, there’s a lot coming at you and you don’t know where to go. You feel lost and confused,’’ says Dang. “It’s really hard to process things and just find a path through, but if you have a mentor that’s there to help, they know what’s coming and they’ve done it before. They have a lot of experience; they’ve been doing this for a long time and have seen other students and what they did. They have a lot of insight they can provide us with when it is so chaotic in the beginning.’’

For Dang, as for many students, that mentor is Dana Peterson, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology.

“She’s so gracious. She gives us more than what’s expected of her, just going out of her way to give us resources and help us during her breaks,” says Dang. He appreciates Dr. Peterson’s open-door policy: “You can always come to her whenever you need help or have questions.”

The students are the reason

Many students consider a mentor in terms of someone who can boost their career trajectory but don’t take into consideration aspects like emotional and social development, or even just skills development, says Dr. Peterson.  And this soft-spoken but firmly grounded professor thinks it can be a mistake for students to look for a mentor who seems like them.

A mentor with a different family, ethnic or cultural background can provide the student with new perspectives that lead to emotional, social and intellectual growth, Dr. Peterson says.

‘’I often hear many of the clinicians say, ‘The patient is why I’m here.’ For me, the students are why I’m here. I get so much out of working with young people with young ideas.  It has kept me feeling younger, with a younger perspective, which I think is really important for everyone. To see these students succeed—there’s nothing better.”


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