Mentoring Women in Medicine

Mimi Canto (left) counts mentorship of women as among the most gratifying aspects of her career. From right: faculty members Amy Kim, Reezwana Chowdhury, Tsion Abdi, Ekta Gupta.

Published in Inside Tract - Winter 2020

In her 23 years as a therapeutic endoscopist at Johns Hopkins, Mimi Canto has led, collaborated and published numerous studies that have advanced the field. She has presented her work around the world at the most important gastroenterology and endoscopy meetings. And as a professor of medicine and director of clinical research in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, she serves as a leader among her faculty peers.

But Canto says her role as a mentor to women faculty and physicians has brought her the greatest career satisfaction.

“I mean, I think that’s why we’re here,” Canto says. “To help bring along the next generations in our fields, right? Seeing young people grow and be independent and successful is so much more rewarding than your own successes.”

Her own work in therapeutic endoscopy includes using endoscopic ultrasound in detecting early pancreatic cancer and its precursors. She leads the division’s Heartburn Center, which offers extensive testing and a minimally invasive endoscopic outpatient procedure that treats chronic acid reflux and eliminates the need for medications.

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Canto says that, over the years, nearly all of her mentees have been women.

“I’m proud to have mentored both men and women,” she says. “But a lot of it has to do with how many women we hire in this division.

“I think it’s natural that young women faculty have kind of gravitated toward a mentor who’s had similar experience. Sometimes they’re thinking about starting families. This kind of work is about science and medicine, but it’s also critical to figure out a work-life balance.”

Though Canto acknowledges that the balance often tips in the direction of work, she says that’s part of life in academic medicine.

“We knew that when we got into this kind of work,” she says. “It doesn’t mean you can’t have a life too, though,” adding that she’s been happily married for 35 years.

Being director of clinical research involves “things like giving the faculty updates about clinical research grants and talking about important changes that come from the institutional review board,” she says. “But more importantly, I think Dr. Kalloo wanted me to be a mentor to clinical faculty and help them in their research in any way I can.”

Canto says that while students, fellows and residents learn about research during their training, as faculty members, they often discover there’s much more to it than science.

“I meet with them to talk about their research interests and how to focus them,” she says. “How to obtain funding, how to apply for grants, helping them understand good research principles.”

Ultimately, says Canto, she advises mentees to excel in their work.

“It’s good that a lot of our field is taking the issue of diversity more seriously than it used to,” she says, noting that several of the major annual meetings of gastroenterologists now include a diversity component. “That’s been a very long time coming.

“But I tell mentees to use their work to make them equal, not their gender. You don’t want anyone to select you because you’re a ‘token woman.’ You want them to select you because you’re great at what you do.”