How I met your mentor: tips to finding sponsorship and mentorship

If someone asked you on day one of medical school, as a fresh-faced first year, to name the essential components of a successful career, what would you have answered? A solid education? Good test scores? Publications? An $800 otoscope? Some are more obvious than others. Who of the enlightened among us would have mentioned a proper work-life balance? How about a strong support system — or the right mentor?
Navigating the jungle of career advancement in the medical field can be treacherous without a guide, and, the experts agree, finding mentors can be paramount to your future success. That necessity is heightened for women physicians, who face barriers to promotion. KevinMD is ripe with physician commentary and advice concerning the subject. For example, Dr. Julie Silver at Harvard Medical School discusses the definitions and roles of sponsors versus mentors. Whatever term you use, the goal remains the same: finding someone senior who will provide specific opportunities and use her influence to help open doors.

For most overachieving budding physicians, however, the question surrounding mentorship and sponsorship may not be: why, but rather: how. Who do I look for? Where do I look for them? What do I say when I meet them? For some, seeking out the right person might be as difficult and nerve-wracking as navigating the New York City subway system. This blog will summarize some of the best tips for finding a mentor that KevinMD physician-authors have suggested, with a few helpful additions.

Join and actively participate in professional organizations

Professional organizations provide online resources and databases to connect budding mentees to their future influencers. The American Medical Women’s Association provides access to a widespread network of women physicians ready and willing to serve as mentors for their members. Similarly, other associations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the Student National Medical Association also provide assistance to connect its members through building fruitful interactions.

For those already in residency, you may need to look no further than affiliated attendings or program alumni. Specialty conferences often sponsor networking events or job fairs, resulting in the opportunity to rub elbows with your field’s trendsetters and ample time to strike up a conversation and introduce yourself.

Join and actively participate in social media as a health care professional

For the tech-savvy millennial generation, social media is emerging as a valuable platform for medical professionals to communicate. A professional Twitter account keeps your finger on the publication pulse and allows like-minded physicians, who would otherwise be separated by the specialty and geographic divide and to connect and collaborate.

Once you have selected your prospective adviser, be it sponsor or mentor, advocate for yourself. Follow the steps suggested by Dr. Joannie Yeh in her blog titled “Your first meeting with a mentor” to maximize your chances of success.

Diversify your portfolio: Multiple mentors can be a positive, as each person brings her own experience, talents, and connections. And lastly, if at first you do not succeed, get yourself up and try again. The first mentor does not have to be the final. Like any enduring relationship, it may take a few trial and errors before you land on the right person. As your career evolves, your specialty and area of interest may change with it. Maybe your prospective mentor seemed to be the right fit on paper, but your goals and interests are not aligned. Maybe they like Nickelback. There is no shame in professionally parting ways with a mentor. Chances are, you will both walk away having learned something. The field is full of able and eager sponsors, so keep at it with the determination of a third-year medical student taking a social history, and you will find the right fit.

Lindsey Migliore is a physiatry resident and can be reached on Twitter @DrMigliore.

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