Utilizing Mentorship to Achieve Equity in Leadership in Academic Medicine and the Healthcare Industry

By Nancy D. Spector, MD |  March 4, 2019 | 

By: Nancy D. Spector, MD, Executive Director, Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine, Associate Dean of Faculty Development, Drexel University College of Medicine

Achieving equity in leadership in academic medicine and the healthcare industry doesn’t have to be a pipe dream. There are clear, actionable steps that will lead us there. The benefits of diversity are numerous and well-documented.

Diversity brings competitive advantage to organizations and strength to teams. With academic health centers (AHCs) facing continual stressors while at the same time being significant financial contributors to — and anchors in — their communities, ensuring their high performance is critical to society as a whole. To grow, thrive and be ethical examples to their communities, health centers need the strongest and most innovative leaders who are reflective of the communities that they serve. This means more diversity in leadership positions.

When we look at the facts of the gender make up of academic medicine and the healthcare industry, we can clearly see inequity — only 22 percent of medical school full professors, 18 percent of medical school department chairs, and 17 percent of medical school deans are women. Note that it has taken 50 years to get from zero women deans to the 25 women deans who are now in this role. Only 28% of full and associate professors and 21% of department chairs are non-white. In the healthcare industry, only 13% of CEOs are women. The pace toward equity has been excruciatingly slow, and it’s not only women and underrepresented minorities who lose, but also the AHCs and their communities.

So how do we reach equity? Mentorship is a key pathway to this goal. In our upcoming session at Hospital Medicine 2019 (HM19), “What Mentorship Has Meant To Me (And What It Can Do For You): High Impact Stories from Leaders in Hospital Medicine,” our panel will outline how mentorship can positively impact your career, define the qualities of effective mentors and mentees, describe the difference between mentorship and sponsorship and explain how to navigate common pitfalls in mentor-mentee relationships.

You will learn about the responsibility the mentee has in the relationship and the need to “manage up,” a term borrowed from the corporate world, where the mentee takes responsibility for his or her part in the relationship and takes a leadership role in the relationship. The mentee must be an “active participant” in the relationship for the relationship to be successful. After the session, you’ll be able to take back to your institution key points to open dialogue on strategies to achieve equity through building mentoring relationships.

When I look back on my time in residency and fellowship, I recognize that I was surrounded by people who offered guidance and advice. But once I became a faculty member, that guidance was less apparent, and I struggled in the first few years. It wasn’t until I attended a conference on peer mentoring that I recognized that I didn’t just need a didactic mentor, but that I needed a portfolio of mentors,  and that I had to take the initiative to actively engage mentorship. So I did, and its effects on my career have been powerful and numerous.

The evidence is there that mentorship can play a major role in advancing careers. Now it is up to the leadership of academic and non-academic health centers to take the initiative and establish formalized programs in their institutions. We all benefit when we have diversity in leadership – so let’s get there together. Who knows? You might even meet your future mentor at HM19.

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About the Author: Nancy D. Spector, MD

Dr. Nancy Spector is a Professor of Pediatrics and serves in dual roles at the Drexel University College of Medicine (DUCOM): as Executive Director of the Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine® (ELAM) program, a part-time year long, national leadership fellowship program for women in academic medicine, dentistry, public health, and pharmacy, and as Associate Dean for Faculty Development. Dr. Spector has received numerous awards for teaching, mentoring and innovation, including the Robert S. Holm Award for her extraordinary contribution in pediatric program director leadership and mentorship from the Association of Pediatric Program Directors, the Elias Abrutyn Mentoring Award from Drexel University College of Medicine, and the Miller Sarkin Mentoring Award from the Academic Pediatric Association. In the past year she has been invited to join a number of leadership efforts at organizations including the Society of Hospital Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Women Leaders in Global Health conferences. In addition to her roles at DUCOM, she has been the educational leader of the I-PASS Handoff Study Group, and serves as the Chair of the I-PASS Executive Council, and is a co-founder of the I-PASS Safety Institute.


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