The power of peer mentorship in medicine

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If you asked me five years ago what my career goals were, I may have said something about getting more grant funding and writing more manuscripts so I could eventually become an independently funded physician-scientist. But honestly, at that time, I had no concept of the nitty-gritty details and emotional support that it would take to accomplish those goals. My primary research mentor was a notable figure in our field and was gracious in her capacity to mentor and get me started. However, the reality was, after a certain point, I had to figure many things out on my own. So how did I do it, get from goals 1, 2, and 3 on my annual faculty review to several first-authored publications, principle investigator on grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and building my independent research program? I was fortunate to land on a gold mine of inspiration and empowerment that was key to my success.

Almost five years ago, I met a group of women through my institution’s KL2 career development award research training program. As junior faculty at the same institution, we were all in a similar place both physically and in terms of our careers. We were knee-deep in the familiar rat race of designing research studies, writing grants, writing papers, all while trying not to drown in the bureaucracy that surrounds academic medicine. These commonalities created a bond between us almost instantaneously. Yet perhaps the most exceptional aspect of our group was that we were all in different academic departments, divisions, and disciplines within our institution. Being from unique spaces within a large academic institution provided a balance of closeness and distance that likely was foundational to our success.

Our group started as a weekly meeting to share our writing goals and provide accountability by declaring the goals aloud. However, as time progressed and we became more comfortable with one another, the meetings turned into a safe space where we could share concerns about difficult situations we encountered in our work life. Somewhere along the way, we incorporated stories about our families and the struggles of juggling life inside and outside of work. The meetings provide a therapeutic place to get advice from others who are literally walking through the same trenches around the same time. We encourage one another to go after grants, share tips on navigating the research landscape, swap writing samples, celebrate published manuscripts and successful applications, inspire new research ideas, collaborations and talks, give advice about dealing with difficult colleagues or situations, and provide support for all of the bumps along the way. Not only have we become great colleagues, but we are also now good friends.

Five years later, as our career stages have shifted, our group meetings have spaced out. However, we continue to promote and amplify each other by sharing resources, nominating each other for talks, and providing a sounding board for new ideas and proposals. As we consider how to take our peer mentoring success to the next level while mentoring the next generation of students, trainees, and junior faculty, I am reminded of these elements that brought us together. Creating groups of like-minded peers who share common goals yet come from different backgrounds can be an invaluable approach to support those who ASPIRE to succeed in academic medicine.

Stephanie Lovinsky-Desir is a pediatric pulmonary physician. This article was written on behalf of Brett Anderson, Lauren Chernick, Teresa Lee, Gissette Reyes-Soffer, Marisa Spann, and Jennifer Woo-Baidal, the ASPIRE peer mentoring group. We are all assistant professors at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Our mission is to provide Accountability and Safe-space to Promote, Inspire, Recharge, and Empower one another.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com 

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