A New Year and A New Perspective on Mentorship!

At every stage of personal growth and development, mentors play a key role in providing advice and support to propel their mentees forward. The act of mentorship is a core element of social interactions and societal advancement. A line like “it takes a village to raise a child” is basically talking about mentorship. Same for the commonly used line in academic and medical circles – “See one. Do one. Teach one.” Graduate and postgraduate students and fellows are required to have assigned mentors to guide them through their final stages of education, and early stages of a professional career.

The level of success a person achieves can be accurately traced to the level of mentorship afforded to them. Mentorship, more so than just academic education, provides a broad spectrum of opportunities for learning and growth. Great mentors are able to provide advancement in what is classically referred to as “soft skills”. These are skills like: communication, leadership, time management, “tricks of the trade”, and other avenues of growth normally left out of school curriculums. This makes finding a highly qualified and experienced mentor an extremely valuable endeavor. Of course these skills are not limited to the medical and academic fields; mentorship is valuable in all aspects of personal and professional growth.

Here is where I introduce the main message I’d like to pass along in this piece. We (correctly) seek and value mentorship from experienced, highly qualified, and revered individuals, to assist us in advancing our knowledge and skills within our chosen fields. However by focusing on finding one type of mentor, we may be setting ourselves up for lost opportunities, learning and advancements of equally beneficial value, from individuals that don’t fit the classic idea of a mentor. By this I mean, when was the last time you looked for a mentor that was junior to you?

We all are kind of aware of how this type of mentorship can be, like how I’m happy to continuously coach my dad on how to advance his usage of smart phone technology, and how my younger relative is mentoring me on how to be a better skater and hockey player! This same kind of mentorship dynamic can also translate in a professional/academic setting. In our present fast-paced advancing world, many novel ideas and tools develop, and typically the earliest adopters are not individuals that have established some previously learned and used idea/tool (i.e. the ones with the lived-in world “experience”). Most of the time, early adopters are typically young, enthusiastic, quick learners!

This group has shown time and again, when it comes to the newest forms of knowledge and skills, they’re ahead of the archetypal mentor. Seeking and accepting younger mentors, in addition to classic mentors, allows the mentee to gain knowledge and skills in a wide range of topics and fields, as opposed to only seeking top-down knowledge. There is great value in learning from experienced individuals, but there is also value gained by seeking the expertise of younger enthusiastic early adopters of novelty, regardless of what field one is pursing mentorship in.


(Image collage sourced from pixabay.com)


Considering this is the time in the calendar where everyone is reflecting on the accomplishments of the past, and making plans and resolutions for the coming year, I thought I would suggest an additional resolution to add to your list this time around. In an effort to maximize personal and professional growth, why not make a resolution centered on mentorship? I’ll even create a fun plot device J What if the resolution could be formulated as follows: This year I will seek (or continue to benefit from) one mentor that is “double” my age/experience AND one mentor that is “half” my age/experience (let’s call it the Double & a Half Mentorship rule!). *All values are approximate.

I’ll use myself for an example: as an early career scientist, a mentor “double” my age is already in place (that’s my boss, Chief Science Officer of the Institute I work in, and Senior Principal Investigator on the research group I’m part of; who truthfully has way more energy than I can achieve, proving that age is not a good measure for vitality!). A mentor “half” my age would be a summer/undergraduate student or temporary employee in our research group (again, the age part of the rule is approximate); someone that will teach me a skill in the lab or on a computer, that will promote my professional goal of learning and conducting high caliber research in cardiovascular disease areas.

This year I aim to continue finding ways to learn and gain skills from both an experienced mentor, and a young enthusiastic mentor, to advance my personal and professional development. I hope you maximize your mentorship opportunities as well. Happy New Year!


Getting Sponsored – When Mentorship Isn’t Enough (Part II)

Remember my disappointing story from Part I of this post? Well, I have an uplifting story from the same meeting.  A different colleague from a different training program came to the conference with a different group of mentors.  Every time I bumped into her at the meeting, she was being introduced to leaders in her field at a variety of institutions by her mentors/sponsors.  She left that meeting with many more contacts, opportunities, and potential future bosses than she had going in.  Now, she had not asked for her sponsors to recommend her to these people, nor had she even asked these mentors to be her “sponsors.”  She was a hard-worker who always delivered consistently on her projects, and those that mentored her felt proud to be recommending her to their colleagues, because they knew that she would be reliable and reflect positively on them.

Similarly, I’ve been very lucky to have been surrounded by mentors who were often very natural sponsors.  As I’ve grown in my career, they’ve stayed in touch and have been eager to recommend me for committees or projects that I would not have otherwise had the opportunity to become involved in.  But in thinking about many of my friends and colleagues who are not lucky enough to have these people in their lives, I wanted to put together a list of things that may improve one’s chances of getting sponsored:

  • EARN IT – Unlike mentors, who may be assigned to you or whom you can choose based on mutual interests and/or a similar research, sponsors are not assigned, and you cannot simply ask someone to be your sponsor – if you have a good mentor, and you show them loyalty and build your trust/credibility with them, they will likely want to be your sponsor.
  • DEPENDABILITY PAYS OFF – When you make yourself visible within your own organization by becoming involved in projects or workgroups and by reliably getting things done on time, people will start to notice and will want you to expand your involvement. This will naturally expand the pool of leaders that you can work with and impress.
  • DIVERSIFY – While you don’t want to spread yourself too thin, it’s important not to put all your eggs in one basket. If you spend all your energies impressing a single mentor or leader in your institution, and they are a terrible sponsor, or they leave, or something else happens, then you’re unlikely to have them as a sponsor despite all your efforts. Have at least a couple mentors that you work well with and work hard to build trust with them.
  • BE THE ONE THAT YOU WANT – Behave like the protégé that you will someday be proud to sponsor – chances are, someone will notice and will be proud to sponsor you
  • DO YOUR HOMEWORK – If you want to learn more, there’s tons of books and articles out there on this topic. Take the time to read up. This article from the Harvard Business Review by Sylvia Ann Hewlett is one example.

David Werho Headshot

David K. Werho, MD is an Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of California San Diego and a Pediatric Cardiac Intensivist at Rady Children’s Hospital – San Diego.  His research focuses on pediatric cardiac ICU outcomes as well as interventions and curriculum development in medical education.  He tweets @DWerho and contributes to the Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Society Newsletter as editor and contributor.


Getting Sponsored – When Mentorship Isn’t Enough (Part I)

I recently witnessed something profoundly disappointing.  A close friend and former colleague who was finishing training at an excellent institution attended a large national meeting, accompanied by no less than 3 personal mentors, with the eager hopes of being connected with potential future employers.  As with most graduating trainees, he was expecting his mentors to help offer meaningful networking opportunities to get his “foot in the door” for some of the very few academic positions available in his chosen subspecialty.  I watched him struggle for several days before going home with no new contacts, no new prospects, and no job interviews.  His mentors, despite helping him excel in research and helping him develop a work-product to present at a huge meeting, ultimately failed him at the meeting in question.  In that moment, I realized that not all mentors are good sponsors. 

Sponsorship is very different from mentorship, though sometimes a great mentor will naturally be an excellent sponsor as well.  Sponsorship has been more recognized in the business world over the last decade after a study published in the Harvard Business Review, “The Sponsor Effect” highlighted the role that sponsorship has in advancing careers.  Specifically, they showed that more than 2/3 of participants who had a sponsor reported satisfaction in their career advancement, while greater than 2/3 of participants who did not have a sponsor resisted advocating for a raise for themselves.  The study also showed that sponsors can confer a 22-30% statistical career benefit.  However, sponsorship is only recently becoming more and more recognized as a key factor in advancing careers in academic medicine as well. 

What is a sponsor?  I think the following graphic from Stanford University does the best job of explaining the difference between a mentor and a sponsor


I think the bottom line is that sponsors are personally and professionally tied to the success of their protégé’s and make it a point to ensure that their protégé’s are connected to the people that will help them achieve their career goals and advance to bigger and better things.  Yes, traditionally, in the business world, this would be primarily within their own organization.  However, in the world of academic medicine, where so much of our career trajectories and growth opportunities (and promotions) are dependent on how we’re seen by people outside of our current institution, either at other programs, or within national societies/committees, I think a major part of sponsorship in academic medicine is active networking.

As I reflect on my own mentoring relationships, I see in hindsight the difference between my mentors and my sponsors.  While much of my personal and professional development is attributable to the advice and guidance of my mentors, I can now see that most of my current career, administrative, research, and educational opportunities have been directly because of my sponsors (even though I didn’t know it at the time).  I was extremely lucky to have these individuals take a vested interest in my personal success, without me ever asking.  But for those of us who are not lucky enough to have sponsors fortuitously arrive in our lives, there are a few ways to increase the chance of getting a good sponsor…  Stay tuned for Part II.

David Werho Headshot

David K. Werho, MD is an Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of California San Diego and a Pediatric Cardiac Intensivist at Rady Children’s Hospital – San Diego.  His research focuses on pediatric cardiac ICU outcomes as well as interventions and curriculum development in medical education.  He tweets @DWerho and contributes to the Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Society Newsletter as editor and contributor.


When One Teaches, Two Learn: Core Values Of Mentor/Mentee Relationship

laptop, glasses, and paper working late into the night

Whether you are a junior graduate student or an established faculty, there is always something that you can learn. Whether you want to write your very first pre-doctoral fellowship grant or learn how to tweet about your center’s accomplishments, there is always someone that you can count on as your guide. That was the first point that stood up to me when I arrived at the 2017 Scientific Sessions. As the days went by, I started to appreciate the sacred bond that we AHA17 attendees all share: We are all mentees. Despite this mentality, young mentees point of views are often ignored. The ignorance is often derived by cultural differences, generation gaps and unbalanced expectation levels which may exist in the environment that the mentee is growing. To tackle this issue, having core values that helps flourishing the mentor/mentee relationship seems to be crucial. Therefore, as a young mentee and based on what I learned throughout the sessions in the meeting, I propose the following fundamental points to be considered as an infrastructure for establishing a successful mentor/mentee relationship:

  1. Find a synergy between your past experiences and the training opportunities in the new environment.
  2. Clarify your expectations from your mentor/mentee.
  3. Have short-term and long-term plans.
  4. Have self-assessments of your success in accomplishing your goals
  5. Either as the boss or the student, do not expect wins from the other party. Loosing is learning.
  6. Do not hide. Do not be an investigator who is just a name on papers and do not be a student who no one knows.

Having such major core values helps the establishment of relationships that will last for a long time and help both sides to move forward. As Phil Collins beautifully said years ago, “In learning you will teach and in teaching you will learn.” So, no matter which stage you are at, respecting the aforementioned points can help to be both a better learner and a better teacher at the same time. 

Shayan Mohammad Moradi Headshot

Shayan is a caffeine dependent PhD Candidate at the Saha Cardiovascular Research Center, University of Kentucky. His research area is focused on vascular biology and lipid metabolism. He tweets @MoradiShayan, blogs at shayanmoradi.com and he is the Winner of World’s Best Husband Award (Category: nagging).