Mentorship in Fellowship

Akhil Narang headshotThis post was authored by Akhil Narang, MD, a fellow-in-training at the University of Chicago.

As the new academic year commences, there is a palpable energy on the wards. Fresh-faced first year cardiology fellows, subspecialty fellows, and newly minted junior attendings excitedly (and nervously) begin a new chapter in their academic career. As I reflect back upon my first year in general cardiology training, beyond the incredible amount of clinical cardiology knowledge I’ve gained, the most satisfying aspect of my fellowship thus far has been the mentorship I’ve been fortunate to experience.

The idea of mentorship is a fairly nebulous concept until one begins fellowship training. Many of us had excellent mentors in medical school and residency but as we enter the final stages of our academic training, mentorship takes on a new and arguably more important meaning. Programs may formally pair trainees with mentors depending on their clinical and research interests and other programs allow the trainee to identify their own mentors over the course of their fellowship. No matter how the mentor-mentee relationship develops, the importance of mentorship cannot be overstated; it’s crucial not only in fellowship but as an early career cardiologist.

Ideally a trainee should have a team of mentors with each one playing a meaningful and perhaps distinct role. It’s rare we find one mentor who can simultaneously guide us with our research endeavors, clinical growth, career guidance, and personal development. Moreover, soliciting advice and opinions from multiple seasoned cardiologists likely leads to a more balanced perspective.

Selecting the right mentors takes time and patience. Often the first several months of fellowship are devoted to acclimating to a new environment and learning the fundamentals of cardiology. For trainees undifferentiated in their ultimate career plans, rotating through different cardiology subspecialties also provides the opportunity to further hone their interests. Too frequently do we pressure ourselves to start research projects or write review papers from the onset of fellowship before truly feeling oriented in our new role as a fellow.

The model research mentor should help you develop research questions and encourage you to independently investigate. At the same time, he or she should be readily available to discuss your progress and offer assistance and resources when help is needed. Setting reasonable and reachable goals are equally important (aim to submit an abstract for an upcoming conference or submit a manuscript by the end of the academic year). Working on large-scale, multi-year studies should be balanced with shorter projects. Collaborating with multiple investigators is valuable but so is working with a smaller team or even one-on-one with your mentor. Most of all, your mentor’s passion for an area of investigation should resonate with your own research interests.

While at times understated, a clinical mentor and a career mentor are instrumental for a trainee as they are available to discuss a challenging case in real-time (or retrospectively), to help look over job offers and even help negotiate a better deal. While we often rely on our research mentors to fill these roles, the exceptionally gifted clinician or the business-savvy cardiologist have an abundance of precious knowledge to share with trainees.

The path of least resistance is to select mentors from within one’s home institution. Many fellowship programs send their trainees to affiliated hospitals such as VA medical centers, county health systems, or community hospitals. Different training environments expose us to different practice patterns; equally important is the opportunity to meet yet another set of attendings, some of whom may make for excellent mentors. Additionally, the ACC has a variety of local and national opportunities to meet “virtual” mentors.

The mentor-mentee relationship often extends well beyond fellowship years. At all of stages of our training and well into our eventual career, the guidance of our more experienced colleagues is invaluable. Sage advice given to me at the beginning of fellowship was to spend time with many faculty members, select mentors that are interested in my growth and potential, and then pursue productive conversations with my selected mentors. I look forward to continued growth of my mentor team in the years to come.

To learn more about the ACC’s Mentoring Program, visit ACC.org/Mentoring.

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