Since childhood, I had dreamt of becoming a physician. When I became pregnant at sixteen, the summer before my senior year, that dream seemed out of reach. My son Jonathan was born three weeks before high school graduation. Despite many obstacles, I was able to enroll in college at the University of Nevada in Reno. I had financial challenges. I was able to work during my freshman year but there never seemed to be enough hours in the day to study, work and take care of my son. In addition, I didn’t have much guidance how to succeed in college. My mother was a single mother and never attended college. My father had been out of the picture. My path seemed incredibly hard and I didn’t have someone who could guide me and encourage me.
Fortunately, I applied for a scholarship from a women’s organization and I was very grateful to receive it. I also gained a mentor. Alice didn’t look like me and it was clear we didn’t have the same background. We were a generation apart, she was white and I am black, I was struggling financially and she was successful businesswoman. Yet, she saw something in me and made the choice to approach me and extend her hand and heart.
Over the years, she had provided clothes and bicycles for Jonathan. She would ask me to write a ‘wish list’ for Jonathan and I was always reluctant to tell her what Jonathan needed, but she, as a another mother, added items she knew that Jonathan would benefit from receiving. She provided guidance, encouragement and support as I began the process of applying to medical school. She believed that I, a single teenage mother, could become a doctor. Alice taught me about being resourceful. She was so encouraging, that when I doubted my own abilities, it was reassuring to know that someone believed in me–that someone put their time and energy into helping to fulfill a young girl’s dream to make a difference in the world. And when I graduated from Stanford Medical School in 2003, she proudly sat in the front row alongside my family, beaming as much as they were.
Alice became my mentor sixteen years ago. Now, I am that successful physician and mother that I dreamed of becoming. Over the years, our relationship has evolved and she continues to be my mentor while I mentor pre-medical students who are working towards achieving their dreams. For teens who make choices that have significant consequences, such as teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, legal concerns, etc. often society assumes that these adolescents won’t go on to do very much in life. Their families may have given up hope. There is society’s concern that they may drain a community’s resources rather than positively contribute to the community. With support, I believe that many of these young people can get back on track and still lead successful lives, but they need others to believe in them so that they feel confident and worthy of doing so. In addition, mentors can guide teens, so that they don’t continue to make decisions that make their lives more challenging or difficult. Mentors don’t have to be the same gender, same profession, same race, all that is needed is some life experience, some time, and genuine desire to help a young person move forward in their life. My relationship with Alice made all the difference in my life and I am the grateful result of the power of mentorship.
For more information on mentoring: www.mentoring.org
You can find Dr. Melanie Watkins book “Taking My Medicine: My Journey from Teenage Mother to Physician” on amazon and you may contact her at www.drmelaniewatkins.com.