Weaving a Community
HMS students Jie Jane Chen (class of 2020) and Jonathan Kusner (class of 2021) describe their motivation to create “Weave”— their innovation to facilitate relational mentorship.
Jane: I first heard The Cinematic Orchestra’s “To Build a Home" a few weeks before HMS’s Revisit Weekend in 2016. A friend had shared the song with me. I found the song’s intention— deliberate community-building—to be empowering and comforting as I began my journey to medical school far from home. This song became the anthem for my first months at HMS: to cultivate community with people who could understand me and help me grow, and to offer others the same. In addition to the incredible academic opportunities at HMS, I was deeply curious about the processes of personal growth that would shape parts of my identity, nourish me as a person, and help me become a physician.
This desire for mentorship at the intersection between personal and professional identities deepened in my early encounters with patients. In one of my first interviews in first year, a patient asked me pointedly, "Are you Korean? Because I hate Koreans." I am not Korean, but this painful comment stirred in me a mixture of uneasiness, sadness, confusion, and also curiosity. How can one feel such hatred? How should I respond? How do we give care or build trust after this opening? I knew I needed others to help me contextualize this encounter.
I continued to yearn for the wisdom of mentors to help me navigate other aspects of identity: What does it mean to be a woman in medicine when I am called "sweet" or when patients have reached out and stroked my hair without my permission? What does it mean to find and use “my voice” for myself, my patients, or colleagues? Some of my classmates shared that they had also encountered personal or identity-related challenges. I wondered, how could we identify mentors who might be willing to share their experiences and perspectives. How could we best equip students for the process of seeking mentorship?
Jon: After hearing of my acceptance to HMS, once I had my feet back under me, I had a sense. The feeling was something that I have responded to at other formative moments in my life, a deep call to action. My identity has been formed through supporting the success of others. I feel most involved in communities when I have the opportunity to serve. I was excited to seek these opportunities in medical school. My motivations were magnified upon meeting and connecting with my classmates. I shared their dreams; I wanted to help. Within my first months at HMS, I did not have the language to name it precisely, but now I understand better; I was experiencing a powerful guilt of privilege.
I desperately wanted to orient my energies towards service, but I was unskilled. Compounding this frustration, the academic enterprise that had attracted me to HMS now fed a paralysis of choice that I had not anticipated. I felt as though I were pinned under a breaking wave; one force was driving me forward while another locked me in place. It felt presumptuous to dive deeply into a research project, when what I really wanted was to connect with someone. I had left my community in Chicago and I sought new stability. I wanted a mentor.
As I began to seek mentorship, I had access to faculty contact lists that displayed wonderful accomplishments and publications as well as lists of vetted mentors from interest groups. Though I had access to names, I found that the surrounding information didn’t help me understand who each person was. I found no better method than to reach out to many possible mentors and hoped to connect with at least one. I had wonderful experiences shadowing, but it was rare that these relationships had durability beyond one or two experiences. I began to wonder about a mismatch in expectations between faculty and students regarding what a mentorship relationship should constitute. I began to recognize an opportunity to serve my classmates who shared similar experiences. In helping to manage expectations in mentorship relationships up front, from logistics to points of common interest, perhaps we could reliably provide the space for durable mentoring relationships to form.
Weave: Uplifted by our desire for mentorship across both professional and personal dimensions and envisioning a mentorship platform that could facilitate such relationships, we developed Weave. Weave empowers faculty to clearly communicate the energies they have for mentoring medical students; faculty are able to specify their preferred cadence of meeting, what opportunities they can offer, and how they prefer to be contacted. Additionally, when faculty are particularly busy, they may toggle their profile to a silent mode that will not be searchable by students. Weave may support academic outputs, but advances something more— that personal connection offers a powerful foundation for mentorship relationships, sometimes the foundation. Many students face challenges in their medical school journey from identity formation, to career development, work-life integration, and wellness. At HMS, Weave offers a new platform to help reliably facilitate a solution to support students through these difficulties: personal mentorship.