Finding the right mentor
By Barbara Hamilton, MD Fall 2018
As a highly competitive specialty, IR is increasingly drawing the interest of superlative students. One key to recruiting them is mentorship. Through my training, I realized the importance of mentorship. As a new attending, I became involved in SIR’s mentorship initiative: the online Mentor Match.
This platform, which launched in July 2017, is a living database of potential mentors of varying experience and career stage. These potential mentors can be searched on the basis of area of interest, geographic location and other points of compatibility. Since Mentor Match’s launch, SIR has honed the program in response to user feedback and has developed guidelines to help both mentors and mentees glean the most from each relationship.
To explore the impact of mentorship, I spoke with Shantanu Warhadpande, MD, a PGY-3 resident in DR at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center who initially struggled to connect with a mentor in medical school. Meeting his mentor, Charles “Chuck” Martin III, MD, has been a significant factor in his decision to pursue IR instead of vascular surgery.
He wanted to ensure future medical students had an easier time finding guidance, so he partnered with Dr. Martin to put together a mentorship event at the 2016 Annual Scientific Meeting in Vancouver, B.C., Canada. In the highly successful system, they paired medical students attending the meeting with preselected mentors.
How did you form your current mentoring relationship, and what recommendations do you have for people interested in doing so?
I met Dr. Martin early in the 4th year of medical school while we were working on an RFS project together. Dr. Martin made an effort to reach out to me on a near-weekly basis. We would chat over the phone about our project, but he would also ask me about my application, interview experiences, even about my family. He legitimately took an interest in me. In turn, I shared my achievements, concerns and career aspirations. A bond formed, and he became my mentor.
A good mentor—one who takes an interest in you and is easily accessible—is not always easy to find. My recommendation to trainees seeking mentors is to maximize your exposure to attendings, through projects, committees, symposia and conferences—all opportunities to meet possible mentors. The more attendings you meet, the greater the chance you’ll find the “right” mentor for you.
What challenges have you encountered surrounding mentorship, either in your relationship with Dr. Martin or in the past?
Prior to deciding on IR, I flirted with the idea of doing vascular surgery, orthopaedic surgery or general surgery. I found attendings in those specialties who would meet with me, but nothing ever progressed beyond a few meetings and my early interest in those specialties waned. In contrast, multiple IR attendings have taken me under their wing.
Waning interest is a challenge to developing mentorships, so regular contact is a must to forge and maintain the relationship. This burden often falls on the mentor as they’re usually in a position of leadership. If the mentor fails to take the lead and maintain contact, the relationship will wither.
What goals did you have for this kind of union? Have they been met?
When we first met, I didn’t really know what I wanted from our mentoring relationship. Early on, I was looking for reassurance that I’d made the right decision in choosing IR. Now I simply enjoy catching up with him. Nevertheless, he intimately knows what I want from my career and continues to guide me toward my professional goals. I believe this is the best iteration of a mentor–mentee relationship: equal parts professional and personal.
What helps you structure your relationship and glean the most benefit?
Dr. Martin and I chat on the phone at least twice a month. He usually calls me on the way home from work. It allows us to catch up on current events at work and with family. I’ve come to look forward to these phone conversations—even my wife knows to leave me alone when he calls!
In addition, we usually meet at one or two conferences each year and make it a point to grab a meal or drinks. Nothing beats a face-to-face meeting. As he is far busier than I at meetings, the burden falls on him to fit in a meeting. He always makes time to reach out and schedule something in advance. It’s much appreciated.
Describe your experience with the Vancouver mentorship event.
At the SIR 2016 annual meeting in Vancouver, 35 medical students were paired with 35 preselected mentors. The goal was to provide the medical students a senior-level point-of-contact to enhance their experience at SIR 2016. The mentor would take their mentee out for a meal or coffee, get to know them, answer any questions regarding IR and help them network. This was the first formal effort to pair medical students with attendings and it was a huge success. Several of the mentor–mentee pairs remain in touch to this day. From the mentee perspective, the greatest benefit derived from this program was the networking opportunity—doors were opened that otherwise would have remained close.
What would you say to someone considering a mentorship?
Undoubtedly, my mentor was a big part of deciding to pursue IR instead of vascular surgery. I owe him a great deal and, thus, am a huge believer in mentorship. It drastically changed the course of my future.
Read more about SIR’s Mentor Match program at sirweb.org/member-central/volunteer/mentor-match.