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ELAM Blog Then and Now: Mentoring in a Different World

Shari Barkin, MD, MSHS, ELAM 2008: ELAM blog author

Shari Barkin, MD, MSHS, ELAM '08

October 2, 2019

Envision the wise woman on the mountain. She has trained, she has toiled, she has arrived. But what if the tools of climbing the mountain have changed? What if the mountain has changed? What if the goal is not to climb a mountain anymore?

Successful women mentors find themselves caught in between worlds — the world in which they achieved success and the world that their mentees find themselves. What got us here is not what will get our mentees there. Mentors need to look upon this brave new world with new eyes to help our mentees see their way forward. Often we provide our hard-won guidance that was absolutely right for us, but we blink and the world around us is different.

Today’s mentors need to help define the terrain for our mentees. That means we need to understand how things have changed to be effective mentors. Here are three things that we can do in this brave new world of mentoring:

  1. Funding good ideas: Instead of only relying on the NIH, look for the best funding fit for the mentee idea presented. For example, there are often local, state-focused, and national foundations that might align with your mentee’s keywords. Exploring specific local foundations can provide targeted pilot funding or supplemental funding to support all those great ideas that didn’t make the cut in the primary source of funding but could augment the quality and outcome of the work. (The Foundation Directory Online, which can be accessed through your local library, and Guidestar can be helpful resources.)
  2. Supporting women who seek balance: Help provide realistic expectations of what it means to succeed at work and home. There is no ideal version of absolute perfection here. It is more individualistic, like a thumbprint. Assist your mentee in articulating her life and work priorities and look for intentional ways to structure her time to achieve the most important priorities. Many time management gurus talk about being clear on your big three priorities, rather than creating a long to-do list and trying to cross everything off.
  3. Finding humility: No one knows the recipe for success. Work with your mentees (and yourself) to maintain clarity of purpose and perspective. The journey is not a straight line. What fun would that be? Instead, things we think we want might not happen, and others we could never have imagined take us in new directions. That new job, that publication, that award ... at the end of the day it is more about bringing your best to the day. Things rarely turn out the way we expect, but they usually turn out the way we need.

The goal is to lift our mentees up to support their greatest contribution, bringing their unique skills to fruition. Along the way, we learn that the journey and the destination are always changing, and find ourselves wiser for it.

Shari Barkin, MD, MSHS, ELAM '08
Vanderbilt University Medical Center

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ELAM is a core program of the Institute for Women's Health and Leadership at Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pa. The Institute continues the legacy of advancing women in medicine that began in 1850 with the founding of the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania, the nation's first women's medical school and a predecessor of today's Drexel University College of Medicine.