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On Mentorship, Leadership, Volunteerism: An Early Career Recap

Throughout my career, I’ve been coached that mentorship is the key to success. I found this to be true throughout my doctoral education, during my stint as a research consultant in industry, as a research fellow in a primarily clinical fellowship, and, now, as junior faculty. I won’t say that I’ve mastered mentorship (or being mentored), but I have been fortunate to benefit from the efforts of some of the best. Here are a few notes that I’ve found helpful in seeking meaningful connections at AHA Scientific Sessions 2019 and beyond:

1. It takes a village to raise a child (and an academic career). Similar to the diversity you would find among village members, I like to use a team-based approach to mentorship. There are different types of mentors with different functions. I’ve found that my mentors fit into at least one of three categories—having similar training and/or experience, interests, or expertise. Some fulfill 2 categories, but very rarely have my mentors matched on all three domains. I find myself as the unifying point in the center.

For example, some of my mentors have earned PhDs. They offer important advice on a career path in academia that includes teaching responsibility rather than clinical load. Other mentors are physician-scientists with shared interests in health equity and or cardiovascular disparities. Still, others may have mastered methods in an entirely different field that I hope to apply to my own. All three make a contribution to my development whether it be learning implementation science or how to manage a clinical trial or balancing the duties of an academician or just being a good person.

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2. Take your seat at the (unknown) table. Sometimes, you find the best mentors in unintended spaces. At the AHA Scientific Sessions, I had the opportunity to attend the “Lunch with Legends” session for early career scientists and trainees to interact with seasoned scientists. In the hustle of running from one end of the enormous Philadelphia Convention Center to the other, I arrived late to find that the list of legends with their bios had been removed. I was going to have to gamble. So, I selected a table where an older gentleman with a friendly face sat with a captivated audience of 3 trainees, who turned out to be one of the leading cardiologists in hypertension among African Americans. (I study hypertension in African Americans!) It seemed serendipitous that I’d landed with a senior scientist with shared interest and expertise from which I could glean.

I’ve learned that more often than not seemingly by-chance opportunities are often the most fruitful. Because I’m interested in personal narratives (see blog), I always ask senior scientists how they found their niche. Most often than not the answer is that they were moving about their work and they were offered the challenge to do something that they’d not yet done—to consider a topic that they hadn’t considered or to work with a person with a different perspective or expertise. There’s apparent synergy in the mild friction at the interface of differences that may carve out entirely new spaces.

3. Think globally, act locally. Most would recognize this quote as an environmental call to action. I would argue that it also applies to approaching volunteerism in our personal careers. In the Go Red Women in Science and Medicine Lounge, Drs. Stacy Rosen and Michelle Albert spoke about Volunteerism to Advance Your Career. One of the main take-home messages from this session (as interpreted by me) was that lending your services and expertise at local AHA chapters may build opportunities to work in larger capacities on bigger stages. As young professionals, volunteering in local efforts builds our capacity to lead in broader contexts.

Being an effective leader—of teams, of labs, of thought—is a required complement to scientific expertise to succeed in academic medicine. As it relates to points 1 and 2 above, we may also find that some of our most impactful mentors aren’t scientists at all.

 

The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.

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The Power of Storytelling: Where Personal and Professional Truths Meet

I’ve always been invested in lived narratives of others. Whether through a PhotoVoice project of patients with hypertension in Baltimore or people I meet in passing, I’ve never taken the presentation of a person or their behaviors at face value. As in my chosen field of inquiry—studying mechanisms underlying racial/ethnic disparities—each person I encounter presents a series of new questions providing revelation to some truth at his/her core. It’s this curiosity that has drawn me to qualitative methodologies that place the perspectives of study participants at the center of understanding their health and building sustainable interventions.

During these AHA Scientific Sessions, I’ve met people on buses, at lunch tables, or through formal mentoring sessions, who were unsurprisingly, in some way, just like me. This could be a reflection of certain similarities in personality, passion, or interest that draw individuals to a convention. Conversely, it could be that I immediately found our areas of convergence, because subtly, or even subconsciously, I was seeking it. (After all, we always like people who are like us and I like liking people—a blessing or a curse depending on who you ask). How might we envision the world to be if we each sought to find something “likeable” about the people meet—in our professional roles or otherwise? How might healthcare transform if every physician assumed they had some experience or value in common with a seemingly “different” person encountered face-to-face in clinic? What might that mean for health equity? Our stories help us to connect.

Our personal stories, as do other truths, will always find their way to the light. We can offer them up courageously, thoughtfully, and readily, or have them seep out through our conversations and actions (often inconveniently). When Dr. Harrington, President of the AHA, stood on stage after Hamilton performers and mentioned his experience as a first-generation college graduate, my heart soared, “me, too!” When he spoke of the loss of his mother, grief gently warmed my face as I was reminded of my own who succumbed to a heart attack just last year. Immediately, I felt seen. It was a connection that, on the surface, our phenotypical differences might’ve masked (see below).

dr harringtonAnika Hines

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of the myriad duties that we’re challenged to perform in our roles as clinicians or researchers, “seeing” other people (and being seen), is arguably one of the most important and impactful. That’s not to say we should bare our souls at every turn—that would be unwise. However, we should probably consider not guarding our personal and professional boundaries so aggressively. Authenticity in our human-to-human interactions—with patients, study participants, collaborators, mentors, and mentees—is where we all learn. The sweet spot lies where we can embrace and respect our diversity without discounting our shared human experiences.

 

The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.