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Leading a C.A.M.P. Trip: Mentoring and Reflection

The new Creating Adventurous and Mindful Physicians (CAMP) program at UofM aims to provide an opportunity for incoming M1 students to venture into nature while reflecting on the transition to medical school and their anxieties leading up to Launch week. To lead these students on this journey, several lecture-hardened M2s were tapped due to their experience navigating the new curriculum and willingness to sacrifice the first week of their admittedly short summer vacation. I was one of these lucky guides chosen to embark on this school-sponsored trek into the woods.

From growing up in what was essentially a fancy cornfield with houses in rural Southwest Michigan, to hunting and hiking the wooded areas near Ann Arbor during college, I always found the outdoors to be a sanctum where I could relax and reflect. Nature can be a truly soothing resource to relieve the increased stress of medical school. I wanted to help students recognize the therapeutic aspects of nature and the wealth of natural beauty to be found within 45 minutes of Ann Arbor. Additionally, there was a similar, albeit unofficial, trip when I started which I missed due an unfortunate obsession with the (then optional) pre-work modules, and I needed to redeem that mistake.

My initial fantasy of the trip involved me being the “wise old sage” character to a group of bright eyed youngsters about to embark on an epic journey, think Gandalf and Hobbits. Realizing that was a bit extreme and very unlikely, I accepted that I would simply be there to answer their questions and maybe give them pointers on hiking, nature, surviving Neuro, and finding the best study spots in Taubman.

My experience during the trip was quite different. Yes, I answered plenty of questions, discussed tricks of surviving in the library, and also showed a trick to vaguely identify poison ivy. However, I found myself reflecting on my start last fall, the weight of beginning medical school, nerves about my ability to succeed and perform, and the sheer overwhelming nature of it all. These are the same anxieties and fear I have about starting my clinical years as an M2.

During the discussions on the trail and debrief sessions in the evenings, I found the advice I was giving them – it will be fine, you will find a way, you have the resources for success – was exactly what I needed to hear for my own transition. Members of my group also provided insight and strategies for tackling the transition that I hadn’t thought of or tried. It was an odd yet refreshing look at the nature of transitions and the importance of trusting yourself to adapt and improvise to whatever challenges await. I was not only able to help them remain calm about embarking on their journey, but I also reassured myself about rising to the next level of mine. It was a powerful experience being able to mentor these incoming students while learning far more from them than I ever expected.

Steven Davidson is about to start his M2 year. While his passion remains in medicine, one of his life's ambitions is to one day train and own a falcon.