2023 Physician Mentor of the Year offers holistic support to first-year medical students
Laura Gates Apr 18, 2023
On April 19, Walker was recognized as the 2023 Physician Mentor of the Year—an honor which humbled and surprised him. He was nominated by all four of the first-year medical students he is currently mentoring through IU School of Medicine’s Physician Mentor Program.
“As medical students, their time is limited, so I’m gratified they find it valuable,” Walker said.
This is his second batch of med students to mentor—his first group graduated in 2022. And Walker felt his mentorship of them was unremarkable. So, this time around, he reached out to 2022 Physician Mentor of the Year Michael Yurkanin, MD—a colleague at IU School of Medicine-Fort Wayne—for some tips.
“It was a case of mentoring the mentor,” Walker said. “Mike gave me ideas on things that might be useful, and he emphasized being more assertive in trying to get the mentee meetings to happen.”
Whatever Walker is doing differently, it seems to be working.
“Dr. Walker has done an excellent job as our physician mentor,” said Dylan Conner. “He has striven to be proactive in his mentorship through weekly emails and several dinner visits with us to provide support and advice for first-year students. We, his mentees, all believe he clearly cares about our mental and emotional health and always asks for updates concerning the two. He often shares motivational and informational material to help us along our journey.”
Walker seeks out answers for any questions his mentees pose, even those not related to his field of medicine—or medicine at all, said Gabrielle Lutz.
“One time, we had questions about fetal alcohol syndrome and how pediatricians work with these patients, and by the end of the week, he had called up or emailed local pediatricians asking for their input and advice,” Lutz wrote in her nomination of Walker. “He also has made it clear he is here for us. I once asked him for local dermatologist recommendations and recommendations on local walking paths; both he answered immediately. He is kind and supportive and a great resource.”
Every IU medical student is assigned to a physician mentor at the beginning of their first year. These physician volunteers agree to provide holistic mentorship to a cohort of medical students throughout their medical school careers. The Physician Mentor of the Year award aims to recognize those who are going above and beyond—as reported by their mentees.
“The most inspirational thing about Dr. Walker is how much he cares about each one of us,” said Esa Syed.
Syed is the only one of Walker’s mentees who is considering a career in ophthalmology. Walker connected him with colleagues for shadowing opportunities and reached out to Indianapolis ophthalmologists to gather up-to-date information about the IU School of Medicine Ophthalmology Residency Program for Syed.
“He’s a very successful retina surgeon who knows more than most people will ever know, but he treats us like equals every time we talk and has the utmost humility,” Syed said. “I want to be as accomplished but as humble as he is.”
Walker co-teaches the Mind-Body Medicine course on the Fort Wayne campus and checks in frequently with his mentees regarding their emotional well-being.
“Medicine tends to have a culture of ‘lone ranger, emotion-free, superhero workaholic’ which doesn’t allow a lot of space for how people are actually doing and feeling, so I try to invite those conversations,” Walker said.
This focus on mindfulness has deepened Lutz’s understanding of the mind-body connection for both clinicians and patients.
“Dr. Walker has encouraged and inspired me to be a thorough physician and truly understand the field I am going to practice in order to best treat and care for patients,” she said. “He has also inspired me to maintain my own well-being and recognize the accomplishments I have already made along the way—and to enjoy the present moment of the journey.”
Walker notes exam days and sends emails to encourage his mentees they are capable.
“When he speaks to us, you can tell how much he cares about leaving the field of medicine in good hands with the next generation,” Conner said.
Outstanding Physician Mentors
Seven other physicians have been recognized as 2023 Outstanding Physician Mentors. Read what their mentees had to say about their support.
Bradley Allen, MD, PhD
- Senior Associate Dean for Medical Student Education
“Dr. Allen is an excellent listener. I can think of no higher praise. Each time we gather with Dr. Allen, I leave feeling that I have been listened to. I think my classmates probably feel the same way. We could all benefit from modeling Dr. Allen’s gracious listening.”
-Matthew Gregory, Class of 2026, Indianapolis
Deepak Bhakta, MD
- Associate professor of clinical medicine
- Director, Cardiovascular Disease Fellowship
“Dr. Bhakta was very personable when I first met him. You could tell he was passionate about being a mentor to us, and he told me he was here for me if I needed anything. I decided to take him up on his offer and requested his help on getting connected with physicians in my specialty of interest. He helped me within 24 hours, rapidly connecting me to multiple physicians and resources that could help me reach my goals. And this was after just one meeting with him. I really feel like he is rooting for me and my success.”
-Emma Bisch, Class of 2026, Indianapolis
Christine Huang, MD, MS
- Assistant professor of clinical emergency medicine and clinical pediatrics
“Dr. Huang is the most encouraging, informative and consistent physician mentor. She gives us advice about all facets of medicine, from choosing a specialty to discussing our financial situations. She takes time out of her busy schedule to spend time with us, and not out of obligation. She has taken us to brunch, invited us into her home, and has planned fun seasonal activities in order to bond with us.”
-Carli King, Class of 2025, Indianapolis
Heidi Lakanen, MD
- Adjunct clinical assistant professor of medicine
- Associate program director, IU Health Ball Memorial Physicians Internal Medicine Residency
“Dr. Lakanen is the type of mentor that reaches out to you first and wants to connect with you. She is very wholesome and very easy to talk to. I've talked her ears off for over an hour, and she has allowed me to. It's wonderful having her as a mentor because I can debrief and get recommendations and advice from her perspective.”
-Laura Ramirez, Class of 2026, Muncie
Whitney Pratt, MD, PhD
- Assistant professor of clinical physical medicine and rehabilitation; clinical neurology
“Dr. Whitney Pratt is a great supporter and encourager for our mentoring group. When I first met her in an Indy coffee shop, she provided amazing advice and guidance about picking a mentor for my PhD and discussed how to navigate graduate school while exploring possible career and specialty interests. At our second meeting, our group met at a brewery and discussed students' pursuits of PhD and third-year rotations. We also talked about vacation ideas and generally had a good, relaxed time. It's very comforting to know that we have a friendly physician-scientist to chat with, who cares about our growth as students and future physicians and is willing to have relaxed conversations full of advice and fun.”
-Olivia Murray, Class of 2024, Indianapolis
Matthew Priddy, MD
- Co-founder, Priority Physicians Concierge Medicine
“Dr. Priddy is a well-connected, down-to-earth, business-minded man who aims to genuinely connect with his mentees. I have had nothing but positive and constructive experiences with Dr. Priddy, who has given me and other mentees business advice, career advice and personal advice related to medicine, all while remaining open and generous.”
-Joseph Cooper, Class of 2026, Indianapolis
Leah Sieck, MD, MS
“Dr. Leah Sieck has embraced me with both arms as a mentee and junior colleague and gone above and beyond to lift me up. She does amazing DEIJ work in the radiology department here at IU and has enabled me not only to attend DEIJ professional development sessions through the radiology department, but also to serve as a medical student chair in her newly founded LGBTQ+ Radiology Interest Group. … Dr. Sieck has shown me and countless other students how to be a kind, compassionate doctor who strives for equity in health care through her leadership and by teaching through example. I could not have dreamed up a better mentor to have standing beside me.”
-Cody Whitted, Class of 2025, Indianapolis