Mentorship in Action

Radiologists at all career stages create a culture of support.mentorship in action main pic

Peter H. Van Geertruydne, MD, compares finishing residency to diving off a cliff into the unknown. For many young physicians, this post-residency period is the first time in their career that they face so many choices.

"Until then," says Van Geertruyden, "you apply to medical schools. You get in. You find out where you're going to do your residency. And then after residency, there's a lot of uncertainty."

mentorship in actionSharing Knowledge

Of course, each year's collection of new physicians is far from the first to peer over the precipice. Every physician once took the boards as a resident and received the results as a doctor, and each wrestled with decisions about what path to take and how to find their footing.

As they navigate this tricky terrain toward fellowship and practice, these physicians turn to their more experienced counterparts for advice, examples, and friendship. But this guidance isn't sought only in the years directly after residency; in many cases, mentorship is a lifelong necessity.

In her own career, Martha B. Mainiero, MD, FACR, professor of diagnostic imaging at the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University in Providence, R.I., points to a handful of mentors, each of whom fulfills a different need. "I think sometimes that's the way it works best," she says. "For different parts of your life you have different mentors. I had some mentors who helped me more in the academic portion of my life and some that helped me more in the practice portion. That's the key, to find those people."

But the most beneficial mentor and mentee relationships have a give-and-take nature. Not only does the mentee benefit by receiving advice and assistance, but mentors also earn the chance to examine their own careers. "You can help somebody think about what's most important to them, what kind of career they want to have, what kind of contributions they want to make to the field," says Richard B. Gunderman, MD, PhD, FACR, professor of radiology, pediatrics, and medical education at Indiana University in Indianapolis. "If you can help somebody else talk through that, you inevitably gain some insight into your own career. It's an opportunity for enhancing self-understanding by going on a journey with somebody else."

"A big part of what we do includes not only what we know but who we are. Are we upholding the ideals of the profession? Are we admirable radiologists and physicians? Those are the sorts of lessons learned through mentorship." — Richard B. Gunderman, MD, PhD, FACR

Get the Ball Rollingmentorship in action 2

While there is clearly a need for mentorship in radiology, many radiologists struggle to form these relationships in the workplace. Some cite the nature of the work as a main obstacle. "Radiologists are very tied to their work area, and they don't necessarily work together," says Mainiero. "You have to make an effort to get together." Others point to today's transient culture, in which physicians change jobs and locations more often than in past generations, making it difficult to establish long-term relationships with colleagues.

One solution is to cultivate professional connections that include radiologists outside of an individual's workplace. For many, the ACR functions as an extended, specialty-wide network, providing an introduction for members wishing to connect. Chapter meetings, AMCLC, ACR Education Center course, committee involvement, and myriad other venues provide members with a chance to meet, interact, and build professional relationships.

Yet another barrier, at least for some, is a lack of measurable return on investment (ROI). With a finite amount of time in the day, many radiologists must choose between completing a monetizable task, like reading another case, and getting to know a less-experienced colleague. In today's high-pressure climate, carving out the time for a lunch meeting or meaningful conversation can be difficult.

While proponents of mentoring point to higher morale, reductions in turnover, and savings on training costs as examples of ROI associated with mentoring, many of the benefits of mentoring do not lend themselves well to balance sheets. Despite this, Mainiero rejects the notion that mentorship falls under the category of unproductive efforts. "If mentoring is done well, everything runs more smoothly, including daily practice," she says. "It does require upfront time and effort, but if you're not mentoring people appropriately, they'll run into various obstacles and difficulties. And that will impact the ability of the group to function well."

"If mentoring is done well, everything runs more smoothly, including daily practice." — Martha B. Mainiero, MD, FACR

mentorship in action 3Varying Approaches

So what does mentoring look like? As with most things, it's different in every situation. "In the ideal setting, mentoring happens naturally," says Van Geertruyden. "It just kind of evolves into the understanding that this person is taking you under their wing." But when these relationships do not happen organically, formalized mentoring programs can help.

Van Geertruyden hoped to combine aspects of both formal and informal mentorship approaches when he set out to establish the ACR Young Physicians Section (YPS) Mentor Network. He recognized a need for organized mentoring, but when he looked back at his own experience with mentors, he found that relationships that came about through unstructured interactions had been more fulfilling. He wanted to create a hybrid environment in which graduating radiology residents and fellows can contact relatively more experienced YPS members based on share qualities, like background, subspecialty, or geographical region. From there, Van Geertruyden hopes relationships can grow naturally. To find out more about the network and find available mentors, visit

While mentorships often evokes images of senior physicians advising young colleagues fresh out of medical school, Mainiero points out that radiologists at all experience levels can benefit. She recalls being mentored while trying to find her way as a residency director at Brown University. More experienced program directors offered their support and advice via email, over the phone, and at society meetings. Meanwhile, the mentors in the YPS are all young physicians themselves, ready to share their recent experience with radiologists trailing just a few years behind.

Regardless of how these relationships come about, radiologists at all stages in their careers find value in mentoring and being mentored. "A big part of what we do includes not only what we know but who we are," says Gunderman. "Are we upholding the ideals of the profession? Are we admirable radiologists and physicians? Those are the sorts of lessons learned through mentorship."

By Lyndsee Cordes

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