Howell-08

Guest Blog by Dr. Lydia Pleotis Howell

The new year is approaching – always a time to reflect on the past and make a resolution for the year to come.  This year, in addition to the usual resolutions about exercise, flossing more, and calling your mother, how about a resolution about mentorship?

Mentorship may not sound like an exciting or unusual resolution — we hear about its importance so often, maybe its becoming a bit ho-hum.  Just in the past two years, for example, Academic Medicine has published articles on “Characteristics of Successful and Failed Mentoring Relationships”, “Policies, Activities, and Structures Supporting Research Mentoring”,“Difficult Issues in Mentoring”, “The Junior Faculty Laboratory: An Innovative Model of Peer Mentoring”.  The faculty professional development programs offered by the Association of American Medical Colleges include sessions on mentoring, and likewise, many specialty societies include mentoring programs in their meetings, too.  Our school has recently started a mentoring academy to help mentors develop better skills and to better link junior faculty to senior mentors.   So it seems like the mentorship-thing might be well-covered – why make it a resolution??

Despite all this press, I’m still struck by what a hunger there is for mentorship.  In early December, I attended the mentorship evening sponsored by our student AMWA chapter and our WIMS group.  The students arranged roundtable discussions with women faculty on a variety of topics pertinent to their careers.   Each table had a topic like “Why did you choose a career in academic medicine?” or “How do you balance your work and family life”.   A few faculty members were assigned to be discussion leaders at each table, and the students rotated among the tables, speed-dating style.  The evening was a big success – lots of students and faculty attended, and the room was bright and buzzing with conversation.  Afterward, the women students all commented on how inspired they were after meeting and talking with the women faculty.   The faculty really enjoyed the event, too.  They enjoyed sharing their experiences, and several even commented that they had wished that they could have rotated among the roundtables, like the students did, and met more or their faculty colleagues and heard what they had to say about the challenges of being in academic medicine.

One aspect that surprised me was how many of the women students commented that the event made them feel more confident that “we can do this” (i.e, have a career in medicine) – I didn’t appreciate that there were such significant worries that they couldn’t.  Maybe I have just forgotten my own student days or maybe our career path has just gotten so much harder and complex.   This reminded me of the importance of serving as role models so that the younger generation can have a chance to see themselves in what we do.  But I wasn’t surprised to see how renewed and energized our faculty were by these brief encounters.  We have all chosen to pursue careers in academia because we particularly enjoy the role of teacher and mentor  – this is why we work at UCDMC, rather than elsewhere in Sacramento.   But we can get so busy with the important work of patient care, and with the requirements and details associated with modern practice, like compliance and regulatory issues, and the challenges associated with building research programs in a tough funding environment, and all the other details associated with what we do, that we can sometimes forget how rewarding and inspiring it is to share our knowledge and experiences with learners or other faculty, even in simple ways like a roundtable discussion.  Its worth renewing your commitment to take  time for these interactions.

In January, WIMS has two excellent opportunities for you to begin to fulfill a new year’s resolution on mentorship, in addition to gaining some personal benefit, too.    On January 7 at 5 pm in Educ. Bldg 1222, WIMS is once again partnering with AMWA to bring faculty and students together.  This event will be a panel discussion on “Inspiring Paths to Leadership in Medicine” .  Several women physician leaders will share their stories about their road to career success which is sure to have meaningful insights for students as well as faculty at all career stages.  Later that week on January 9 at noon in Education Bldg, Rm 2206, WIMS and Faculty Development are co-hosting a panel discussion on “Balancing Elder and Family Care and a Faculty Career:  Work-Life Integration is Not Just About Childcare.”   Elder care is a growing responsibility for faculty, and presents unique work-life challenges, especially for women who provide the majority of elder care-giving nationally.  Faculty panelists will share their experiences, and so can you – we can all learn from each other, and provide ideas on how our UC Davis Health System can better support faculty so that we can all meet better meet our work as well as our family responsibilities.   And of course, food and conversation is part of each of these events, too – always a good excuse to get together with your colleagues , get to know each better, share experiences, and gain ideas.   Start your new year right — we look forward to seeing you!

Lydia Pleotis Howell MD  – UCDHS representative to the AAMC’s Group on Women in Medicine & Science