The most successful mentorships benefit both mentors and mentees.
A few years after joining Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Eric A. Walker, MD, reluctantly participated in a mandatory junior faculty development program. Through the program, Walker was assigned a mentor, an orthopedic surgeon nearing the end of his career who often volunteered in Honduras.
During one meeting, the surgeon invited Walker to lecture at a hospital in the Central American country — an offer Walker quickly dismissed. “I couldn’t understand how lecturing in Honduras would help me or why they would want to listen to me,” explains Walker, now associate professor and section chief of musculoskeletal radiology at Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. “But thinking back on it, I realize that guy offered me a very interesting and unique opportunity, and I just wrote it off without giving it a chance.”
After just two meetings, Walker and his mentor never saw one another again. But Walker didn’t care much. He assumed he knew exactly what he needed to do to move his career forward. “I thought that if I just put my nose to the grindstone, people would notice my work and everything would fall perfectly into place,” Walker says. It wasn’t until years later that Walker realized what he actually needed was the very thing he had disregarded in the development program — a mentor. “A mentor can help you shave years off the time it takes to accomplish your goals, because he or she has probably already done whatever you’re trying to do,” Walker explains. “If I had just closed my mouth, opened my mind, and listened, I would probably be a little bit further on right now. But that’s all part of the learning process; sometimes you meander a bit before finding the right path.”
Since then, Walker has had several mentors and has even begun mentoring junior colleagues. Like Walker, many radiologists and other professionals credit their mentors with helping propel their careers. This is especially true for radiologists just out of residency. “Early career physicians like me are just getting our feet wet, and we don’t really know all the ins and outs of how to succeed in our careers,” says Jennifer E. Nathan, MD, chief of neuroradiology at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Fort Belvoir, Va. “Having a mentor who’s experienced to guide you is a great way to help you learn how to advance your career.” But finding a mentor and developing relationships that are fruitful for both parties can be daunting to someone who has never done it before. Surprisingly, it’s a process that often unfolds serendipitously.
Courting a Mentor
Mentorships can develop either deliberately through formal programs or spontaneously through informal interactions. While formal programs can spawn successful mentorships, relationships that evolve naturally tend to last longer and be more valuable, says McKinley Glover IV, MD, MHS, resident in diagnostic radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and vice chair and chair elect of the ACR’s Resident and Fellow Section. “Organic mentorships are sometimes harder to find but are often easier to cultivate because they usually develop through a mutual interest or shared experiences,” he says.
Finding a mentor begins with determining one’s own career objectives. Radiologists must decide, for instance, whether they want to go into academics or private practice. Once they know which direction they’d like their careers to head, radiologists should look for people who they admire in positions that they hope to be in one day. “The best situation is to find someone who you look up to and who you think you could learn a lot from,” Nathan explains. “Ideally, your mentor should be on a similar career path as you and should be someone you can identify with and who has a lot of the qualities that you are looking for in your career.” Walker adds that “you should do some homework ahead of time to find people you would be most compatible with. You can learn about potential mentors’ expertise and interests by researching their previous publications and lectures, looking at their LinkedIn profiles, and talking with faculty at your institution.”
From there, radiologists can approach potential mentors at meetings and conferences or even through social media. Melissa M. Chen, MD, neuroradiology fellow at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, recommends using Twitter. “You can start a conversation about current health care topics, for example. Soon you’ll find yourself exchanging tweets with people who share your interests, which breaks the ice when you meet them at national conferences,” she says. This dialog allows radiologists to ask potential mentors for their thoughts and guidance on particular topics. “Most people in leadership positions are happy to help you and give you advice,” notes Darlene F. Metter, MD, FACR, professor of radiology and family and community medicine and distinguished teaching professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.
Defining the Relationship
The mentor/mentee relationship usually goes from a casual acquaintance to a full-blown mentorship when the mentee reaches out to the mentor regularly for advice and the mentor occasionally checks in with the mentee. “When the mentor demonstrates an interest in your career development and reaches out to you with opportunities and advocates for you as you move forward in your career, then you know it’s a true mentorship,” Glover says. But often the exact point at which the relationship becomes a mentorship is nebulous. For instance, Chen didn’t realize Metter was her mentor until Metter mentioned it one day. “It wasn’t like I set out for Dr. Metter to be my mentor,” Chen says. “We just had a shared interest in organized medicine, and I began asking her how she got interested in that topic. As our relationship blossomed, I began asking her for advice, and she began asking me for my thoughts on things.”
While it doesn’t matter how often a mentor and mentee communicate or whether they meet in person or interact solely through technology (Chen and Metter prefer text messaging), the most successful relationships include give and take from both parties. Naturally, the mentee will likely gain more from the relationship than the mentor, but the mentee can reciprocate by helping the mentor conduct research, write articles, and complete other projects. “It’s very hard to sustain any relationship when just one person gives and the other person doesn’t give back,” Glover says. “The nature of mentor/mentee relationships is such that the mentor has a lot more to give in terms of advice and opportunities, but one of the most valuable resources the mentee can give is his or her time and energy.”
As early career radiologists gain experience and advance in their careers, junior colleagues will likely begin courting them as mentors. Having mentored more than 20 people throughout her career, Metter says it’s rewarding to see her mentees achieve their goals. “If you find a talent in someone that they can use to help themselves and radiology as a profession, it’s really important to help them,” she says. “It’s so satisfying to see someone succeed and to celebrate the little successes as they go forward.” For Nathan, mentoring is a way to give back. “The dean of my medical school contacted me a couple years ago to mentor female medical students interested in radiology,” she explains. “I serve as a role model to encourage more women to join the profession.”
Widening Your Circle
Even though finding a mentor and cultivating a successful relationship takes effort, radiologists shouldn’t limit themselves to just one mentor. Radiologists who have multiple mentors can gain deeper insight into different aspects of their careers and exposure to a wider range of experiences. “One thing I’ve tried to do is find mentors who are in various stages of their careers — early career, midcareer, and late career — because they all have different things to offer, and they all provide different opportunities to their mentees,” Glover says. “For instance, early career people in an academic setting usually give their mentees an opportunity to work on research projects, whereas late-career people can pave the way for their mentees to serve on committees within the organization.”
Some mentorships last just a few months, while others continue for years. “Mentoring has no timeline,” Metter explains. “It is tailored to the needs and receptiveness of the involved parties.” Radiologists should strive to find mentors throughout their careers who can help them meet their evolving goals. Even late-career radiologists can benefit from the expertise of their more experienced colleagues. “For different periods of your life and as your interests change, it’s very important to have mentors to help guide you along the way,” Metter notes. It’s a philosophy that Walker has come to embrace. “Having a mentor is like having a good map,” he says. “If you’re trying to get somewhere, you can probably do it without the map, but you’ll do it much better if everything is mapped out in front of you.”
The Radiology Leadership Institute offers two online courses to get you started, whether you’re looking to be an informal mentor or you’re starting up a mentoring program at your institution.
• Essential Mentoring Fundamentals gives you the basics of sharing knowledge and expertise. You’ll learn how to provide advice and resources, support career goals, and celebrate achievements as a mentor.
• Designing and Initiating Mentoring Programs helps you implement the right program for your institution. The course covers how to plan your program and explores the criteria for matching mentees and mentors to create fruitful relationships.
By Jenny Jones, Imaging 3.0™ content specialist