By Shree Agrawal
Approximately half of matriculated medical students identify as female with numbers in surgical training steadily increasing to potentially also account for half of postgraduate trainees. Unfortunately, these figures are still dismal for underrepresented minorities, who at the medical school level may, at best, represent one in twelve students. I can only hope this changes for my underrepresented peers in my lifetime as we continue to redefine the culture of medicine.
Within AWS and in medical training, the metaphor of “building a pipeline” represents creating greater access and entry to medicine among women and underrepresented minorities. In this context, I often wonder about the students and trainees who currently have the courage to enter fields in which the majority is homogenous. Advances in gender equality and diversity representation within other fields of medicine, such as pediatrics, OB/GYN, psychiatry, and geriatrics, has not yet translated to inclusion in leadership and academic positions. I believe mentorship is key to addressing this paucity of diverse role models.
This brings me to some of the great posts I have recently seen on Twitter about mentorship within academic surgery. My feed has been populated with retweeted clips, links, or visual abstracts from Dr. Caprice Greenberg’s address, “Sticky Floors and Glass Ceilings”, Dr. Keith Lillemoe’s address, “Surgical Mentorship: A Great Tradition, But Can We Do Better for the Next Generation?”, and “Characteristics of Effective Mentorship for Academic Surgeons: A Grounded Theory Model,” by Drs. Amalia Cochran, William B. Elder, and Leigh A. Neumayer. In 2017, I view these pieces to be the first sign of preparation for when the pipeline to surgery eventually bursts.
As more diverse medical students develop interest in surgery, dynamic and supportive mentorship becomes even more essential. From Drs. Cochran, Elder, and Neumayer’s work, four major themes for effective mentorship emerged: the need for multiple mentors at different points in a professional lifetime, mentors who provide strategic advising, who are unselfish in their attitude, and engage with diverse mentees. In addition to these basic principles, self-awareness of implicit bias and efforts to reduce its effect, as stated in Dr. Greenberg’s talk, is paramount in effective mentoring, especially of non-traditional mentees.
In medical school, this may translate to finding a mentor who is willing to meet often and create plans for successfully matching or perhaps engaging in academic research. An unselfish attitude may be a sincere interest in helping achieve one’s potential, regardless of institutional interests or personal/professional gains for the mentor. Finding mentors who engage with diverse mentees does not mean identifying faculty members who represent similar backgrounds, but finding someone who understands distinct challenges faced by students from wide-ranging backgrounds. A single mentor may not be able to espouse all of these characteristics, but finding individuals who can contribute in each area facilitates personal and professional development.
What are your strategies for identifying and establishing effective mentee-mentor relationships in your medical training?
Shree is a fourth year medical student at Case Western Reserve University, where she also completed her bachelors of science degree in biology. Currently, she is completing a clinical research fellowship in genitourinary reconstruction at the Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute at Cleveland Clinic and serving as the Chair of the AWS National Medical Student Committee. Shree is passionate about research surrounding patient decision-making and medical education. In her free time, she enjoys blogging for AWS, practicing yoga, and boxing.
Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.