When most people envision a typical mentormentee relationship, they imagine a fairly onesided exchange, in which an older, wiser mentor takes a younger, less experienced mentee under their wing — providing limited guidance and advice when needed. Some are fortunate to have systems in place at their institutions to facilitate these relationships. Others find them harder to come by. How can radiologists and radiology departments work to make mentor-mentee relationships more accessible and rewarding for all involved?
Sussing the Gaps
According to ACR RFS-YPS Liaison Amy K. Patel, MD, young radiologists want mentors, but supply is not meeting demand. In a recent survey of 2,000 young radiologists — carried out by the ACR YPS in collaboration with the Commission for Women and Diversity — 69 percent of respondents noted that their practice or institution did not have a formal mentoring program. Of those with a formal mentoring program, 47 percent were not satisfied with the program, and an additional 21 percent were only somewhat satisfied. Twenty-one percent had a single mentor, and 44 percent reported having no mentor — despite 78 percent reporting that having a mentor would be valuable.1
For women and underrepresented minority groups (URMs), access to these relationships can prove even more difficult. “There’s pretty consistent evidence that women especially, and probably URMs in general, would like to be mentored by people of similar background,” says Jay R. Parikh, MD, FACR, professor of radiology and medical director at MD Anderson Breast Care Network with Memorial Hermann in Houston. “And that’s something that we need to — as the evidence mounts — accept and build into the culture where we foster that relationship more.” This is especially pertinent now, says Patel, because having a mentor was described as “extremely valuable” by 39 percent of women versus 14 percent of men.1 ACR YPS Chair Sonia C. Gupta, MD, director of US at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, agrees. According to Gupta, women radiologists, make up approximately 25 percent of the specialty who are interested in leadership.1
However, Parikh notes that making the right match can be challenging for some radiology departments. “Some of the departments may struggle logistically to be able to provide mentors of similar backgrounds for mentees, due to their size,” he says. Additionally, unconscious bias is still a real barrier, according to Taj Kattapuram, MD, a breast and IR in Arvada, Colo., and the ACR YPS Social Media Liaison. “For URMs it can be a lot more challenging,” says Kattapuram. “For example, being a female and a minority, you see that whether people realize it or not there is an unconscious bias from potential male mentors who are of a different cultural background.”
Redefining the Concept
According to Kattapuram, one way to promote mentorship is to conceptualize a fuller and more complete definition of all that being a mentor encompasses and all the benefits that stand to be gained. “I think it’s important that there is a distinction between mentorship and sponsorship, and I think the cultural shift that’s needed is to bring both of those together,” says Kattapuram. “So what I mean by that is, anyone can be a mentor — it’s just someone who can give advice, be there for you, and be a role model. But how do we get more out of a mentor-mentee relationship? Well, it’s that sponsorship piece; it’s the action. Sponsorship is when a mentor — or even a mentee — can take that relationship a step or two further by really helping the person who they’re mentoring. We can all shoot our mouths off with advice but who follows through with help?”
Gupta also stresses the distinction between mentorship and sponsorship. “While mentor relationships are helpful, sponsorship relationships are even more career-advancing,” says Gupta. “We need a shift toward sponsorship opportunities and a more open structure. Rather than a few select people at the top we need to focus on spreading opportunities farther and wider. Giving a sponsorship opportunity to an individual who does not have prior experience in that realm while also providing mentorship can be ideal. This allows for more leadership diversity in experience, age, gender, and ethnicity.”
Parikh agrees that being a good mentor takes work, and more than many are prepared for. “Mentorship to me is a long-term relationship and it’s a responsibility; it can’t be something that you just take on,” he says. But that doesn’t mean it can’t also be reciprocally rewarding, notes Parikh. “These relationships can and should be mutually beneficial,” adds Kattapurum. “I partnered with someone to write a paper together. I primarily wrote one article, she edited, then we submitted for publication. Subsequently she primarily wrote an article, I edited, then we submitted. The collaboration has been mutually beneficial.”
As radiologists gain a better understanding of the full meaning and mutual benefits of mentorship, the general gap between supply and demand may shrink. But what about those practices/institutions where — due to size, unconscious bias, or other factors — women and URMs simply can’t find good matches?
According to Gupta, social media can help women and URMs find good matches for a mentor-mentee relationship from afar. “Social media creates an open atmosphere,” Gupta says. “It allows someone who is looking for mentorship or sponsorship opportunities to reach out directly to a practice leader, ACR BOC member, or chair of a department to start a conversation. This person could be outside of your own institution and this could lead to a different experience rather than setting up a formal meeting. It allows for a natural conversation to begin over a topic of mutual interest and can develop into a more fruitful relationship.”
Patel agrees. “Social media is proving to be an incredibly transformative avenue in creating mentorship and sponsorship of female radiologists and URMs at all career levels — removing the red tape that previously existed between those seeking these opportunities and the leaders, experts, researchers, and advocates of our profession, both female and male,” Patel says. “It also removes geographic barriers — connecting women radiologists on a global scale, which has resulted in an empowering sense of solidarity and community in ways we have never seen before.”
Social media has also been a game-changer when it comes to opportunities for collaborations for women and URMs. “Social media in my opinion has been phenomenal,” Kattapurum says. “I know of several examples of people who have met on social media for various reasons and have connected in such a way to collaborate, for example on publications.” Gupta agrees. “Aside from mentorship opportunities, connections on social media have already resulted in new collaborations for me with papers and book clubs I’ve been a part of through the Radiology Chicks™ Facebook group,” she says.
Patel agrees. “Through the empowerment of social media, there is potential to truly change the landscape of radiology in all arenas, from leadership, advocacy, and negotiation to professional gender parity,” she says.
Laying the Foundation
Ultimately, mentor-mentee relationships are vital, and radiologists and radiology departments should do all they can to foster thriving mentorship programs, says Parikh. “I think it’s a shared responsibility,” he says. “Not just between the mentee and the mentor, but for the radiology department as a whole.”
To support mentorship, Parikh suggests departments use feedback from mentees to tailor their mentorship programs, provide mentors and mentees with protected non-clinical time to interface, and give recognition to mentors for the significant time, energy, and resources they’ve committed to helping their mentees.
Lastly, Parikh suggests departments lay the groundwork early and train mentees to eventually become mentors themselves. “If they actually institute the right culture, they can teach these mentees how they have a responsibility to be mentors as they go along in their career,” he says. “Above all else, if I had to choose one word to describe the real trademark of a good mentor, it’s ‘altruistic.’ So you’re at that point in your career where you really believe you’re part of the responsibility of the greater good for our professional specialty, and you really want to help the next generation have a positive experience. That, to me, is what the mentor-mentee relationship is all about.”