In this episode of the AGA podcast, Small Talk, Big Topics, hosts Drs. Matthew Whitson and Nina Nandy are joined by Drs. Lin Chang and Jim Lewis. Dr. Chang is a professor of medicine at David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, co-director of the Oppenheimer Center for Neurobiology of Stress and Resilience and the program director at UCLA’s GI Fellowship Program. Dr. Lewis is a full professor of medicine and epidemiology at University of Pennsylvania, associate director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Program and oversees the T-32 Epidemiology Fellows at Penn’s GI fellowship. Both guests are recipients of numerous awards in their career fields. Today’s discussion will be focused on the topic of mentorship.
The episode begins with guests Drs. Chang and Lewis sharing a bit about themselves and their respective career paths. Circumstantially, they both happened to change career paths to focus more on the academic and research aspects of the field rather than private practice. Nina then asks what their weekly interactions with mentees look like. Dr. Lewis says his meetings with mentees range from very structured to informal. He stresses the importance of maintaining structure in the relationship. Dr. Chang says it’s trickier to have regular standing meetings with a mentee in clinicals as opposed to in research, and for this reason mentor/mentee relationships tend to vary depending on the individuals. They both agree mentorship can focus on a variety of topics including career development, leadership, research, work-life balance, etc. What really makes a good mentor, Dr. Chang says, is giving advice based on their mentee’s perspective rather than their own. The ability and willingness to listen, Dr. Lewis adds, is another characteristic of a good mentor. Additionally, it is stressed that even those in senior positions can and do benefit from a mentor as well.
Dr. Chang then points out that one of the most effective ways to navigate your own position is by observing others in their own, more senior roles. It was in the three years Dr. Lewis served as chair-elect that he was able to gain some of the most valuable learning experience and preparation for his role to come. Matthew asks both guests to share how this knowledge shifted their individual approaches moving forward. Dr. Chang says observing styles she didn’t like helped guide her to her own desired style. Dr. Lewis recounts the importance of leveraging strengths and improving weakness. Nina asks how they each handle a situation in which a mentorship relationship isn’t working out. It is crucial for a mentor to remember, Dr, Lewis says, that the relationship isn’t about them, but about their mentee. For this reason, it’s both common and valuable for an individual to have more than one mentor. Dr. Chang believes most situations can be remedied with effective communication coming from sides.
When asked for some key factors in a successful mentor/mentee relationship, Dr. Chang says it often can be determined whether the dynamic will be successful simply by meeting the person. If two people share a common goal, can communicate with ease, work with and genuinely enjoy each other, then the relationship is likely to be a success. Alternatively, negative characteristics include a mentor who is unavailable or one who views the relationship as transactional. Dr. Lewis stressed the essential distinction between a mentor/mentee relationship and a boss/employee relationship. The biggest red flag, he says, is a mentor using the mentorship to advance their own career rather than the mentee’s. Regular self-evaluation is key in order for mentees to notice their strengths and progress. Additionally, it shouldn’t be overlooked that the mentee has an equal responsibility in maintaining the relationship. They should be proactive, respectful, and be able to ask for things from their mentor. When balancing the needs of a mentee with your own career, Dr. Chang says balance is key.
Dr. Chang believes the one distinction between a mentee and a mentor is experiences. It is also dependent on the area the person is looking for mentorship in. They offer some encouraging words regarding imposter syndrome. Those in fellowship programs have the opportunity to hone in on the skills they can excel at individually.
As the episode comes to a close, our guests share some advice for young professionals. A career path does not have to be linear, they are in agreement, and exploration is encouraged especially in early stages of one’s career. Dr. Lewis believes every step of a career to be an opportunity for soul-searching and figuring out what your passions are. Dr. Chang adds that choosing the path best for you is always the right choice.