Workplace Challenges

Mentors VS Sponsors In Medicine

April 12, 2019

Dear Female Doc, I’m less than 100 days to the end of fellowship and I still feel like I don’t have a mentor. It would be helpful to go through the pros and cons of each possible job position with someone. I know I can handle it, I just hear all about the great things […]

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Dear Female Doc,

I’m less than 100 days to the end of fellowship and I still feel like I don’t have a mentor. It would be helpful to go through the pros and cons of each possible job position with someone. I know I can handle it, I just hear all about the great things with Mentorship. I don’t want to inadvertently sabotage any career opportunities by just wanting to “handle it on my own”.

What’s a mentor?

A mentor is just someone who gives you guidance coming from a place of experience. Technically, mentors are everywhere in the medical field… you just have to ask.

But seriously, I don’t have a mentor!

Hey John! Former fellowship PD, now friend

Luckily your program director is supposed to guide you! It’s his/her job. I would run all your job opportunities by him/her. That’s what I did (Thanks John!). I was also really candid with my questions. I told him my salary offerings and these details helped him to reassure me that I was getting fair market value. He had the experience, and I needed his knowledge. That’s a mentor.

Dos:

  • If you’re in residency, you can ask your program director.
  • If you’re a medical student, you can ask your medical school advisor, an attending you’re rotating with, or even a resident or fellow.
  • If you’re pre-med, you can basically ask anyone in healthcare. They’ll have great insights! I’m also here for you!

Don’ts:

  • Please don’t ASK if he/she can be your mentor. Just ask for advice and create an organic conversation that can lead to a wonderful relationship.
  • I’ve never asked anyone to mentor me. I just simply asked them for their advice on specific questions I had. No one will write these questions for you. You must put in the work to start with a mentor.

How can I start building a relationship with a mentor?

Here are some useful phrases:

  • Hey Dr. So-and-so, I have a question about my….(contract, job offer, presentation, application, etc.). Do you have some time to share your experience and advice with me? When can we set that up?
  • Wow, I never knew about that [experience X]! Can you tell me more about your story? How can I do that too?
  • That’s really interesting. I’d like to learn more. Can we set up a time so you can teach me?

What’s a Sponsor?

Chris taking me front row at CHEST 2018 with some cool dudes behind us!

A SPONSOR is really what you’re looking for and that takes time. What’s the difference between a mentor and a sponsor? A sponsor seeks out opportunities for you and helps nurture your career growth. This is someone who consistently creates a long term relationship with you. This is a senior doctor very interested and invested in YOUR success! How awesome is that?

Most of us commonly know the term sponsor from Alcoholics Anonymous.

I have a meeting with my sponsor. My sponsor told me about this. I call my sponsor once a week. Sound familiar?

A sponsor’s role is the same in any industry. You need mentors and sponsors no matter what you do!

How did you find a sponsor?

Here’s my story. I found my first critical care sponsor at an American College of CHEST Physician’s annual meeting after I had been an attending for 3 years (yes, it took me 3 years after I graduated to find a sponsor!).

Our twitter meet n’ greet #CHEST2016

We met on twitter! I had been tweeting up a storm at #CHEST2016 and Chris, the chair of the social media task force, took notice. We met in person because we were tweeting at the same lecture. I introduced myself after it was over. Twitter is an excellent way to network with other doctors, especially at conferences. And guess what? We turned this into a research project! You can read more on the research here (Chris helped me complete this research with a wonderful team!).

He invited me to the task force and I joined! I participated heavily, showing great enthusiasm, and tried to never miss a meeting. Chris started to invite me to more projects and started to notice some of my social media strengths. He shared stories about his expertise and how to navigate a leadership career within the organization of CHEST. Chris also nominated me for the Young Researchers Award for our twitter project and I WON!

This was a much more organic relationship and took a lot of time to find as you can see!!! You’re already ahead of the game by just THINKING about finding a mentor or sponsor, so GREAT JOB!

These days, I actually have more than one sponsor!

Can a mentor become a sponsor?

My other sponsors used to be my mentors! YES! These mentorship relationships can change over time.

One was my fellowship attending and the other was my program director! I’ve kept in touch over the years and we mostly meet up at CHEST and SCCM (Society of Critical Care Medicine) annual meetings. Since then our relationship has grown. They have both invited me onto the committees they chair and research they lead. I started getting these opportunities at the around the 4-5 year attending mark.

Now I have cultivated even MORE relationships that are growing because of my work in point of care ultrasound (POCUS)! Senior researchers and doctors leading POCUS nationally have created more teaching opportunities for me and are always available over the phone if I ever need any career advice. Thanks guys!

Don’t worry, someone great will come along and see your beaming potential. You just have to stay on the ball starting the relationship, and then it will take off over the years.

Young women need mentors and sponsors:

By now you must have noticed that most of my mentors and sponsor are men. This is one of the challenges that women in medicine face. Most senior physicians are men. Currently, 70% of all doctors in the United States are male, even though medical school admission rates have reached 50/50. This does NOT mean you can’t be successful as a young woman. I’m a true example of that. The data in the critical care field is something my sponsor and I looked at, in yet another research project, and you can read more here.

This is also true for other industries. Most fortune 500 companies have C-suites that are 80% male.

Are there senior male physicians who seem to get their bro on with student bro dudes? Sure. Medicine is still a boys club.

Do you want that type of sponsor anyways? Probably not, bro. Attending chicks like us are here for you! 😉

Things to look out for as a young woman:

The father-daughter relationship and the Predator-prey relationship.

Some people are just socially awkward. You do not need another parent. You do not need to be scolded. Keep it moving. Keep your goals in sight. You don’t owe anyone ANYTHING for what you may perceive as “free” advice. Remember that it’s just as fulfilling for a mentor or sponsor to nurture a young doctor in training. We LOVE watching you grow. It makes us proud and hopeful for the future of healthcare. That’s why we do it. If there’s anything icky going on, trust your intuition and cut the relationship off. No one in healthcare is that powerful or famous. Trust me, these nerds can’t come back to sabotage you. Didn’t it seem like the popular kids in high school had all the power? Now no one even thinks about them. That’s how it is in healthcare too.

If you’re struggling, it’s ok. I struggled and stumbled through fellowship too! This is normal.

Overall, think of this process as relationship building. Most people start with something in common. We all want to make a difference in healthcare.

Take home points:

A mentor: someone who gives you guidance and advice coming from a place of experience.

A sponsor: someone who seeks out opportunities for you and helps nurture your entire career growth.

Overall, think of this process as relationship building.

Some useful phrases to start with:

  • Hey Dr. So-and-so, I have a question about my….(contract, job offer, presentation, application, etc.). Do you have some time to share your experience and advice with me? When can we set that up?
  • Wow, I never knew about that [experience X]! Can you tell me more about your story? How can I do that too?
  • That’s really interesting. I’d like to learn more. Can we set up a time so you can teach me?

I’m also here for you!

I hope this was helpful! Please tell me your thoughts on mentorship vs sponsorship below!

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