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Dome - Mentoring the World's Best People

Dome September 2013

Mentoring the World's Best People

Date: September 1, 2013

Katie Reeves (left) mentors new nurse Cara McComas in the progressive cardiac care unit. McComas also takes part in the SPRING nurse residency program, which has helped boost retention of new nurse graduates.
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Katie Reeves (left) mentors new nurse Cara McComas in the progressive cardiac care unit. McComas also takes part in the SPRING nurse residency program, which has helped boost retention of new nurse graduates.

As a mentor to junior faculty members, psychiatry professor Jennifer Haythornthwaite belongs to a revered league of men and women at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who go beyond their scholarly duties. 

Haythornthwaite, who recently received the Vice Dean’s Award for the Advancement of Women, believes helping younger faculty grow and succeed on the job and advance in their careers should be expected. “Our more-senior faculty need to think of mentoring as part of their job, especially while they ascend the ladder,” she says. “They have an institutional responsibility to give back to the next generation.”

Haythornthwaite is helping to make mentoring integral to the culture of academic medicine with initiatives such as the Master Mentors program. Created with the late Lisa Heiser, assistant dean for faculty development, and polished by David Yousem, associate dean for professional development, the program teaches senior faculty members how to give meaningful feedback to their mentees. 

More broadly, the program exemplifies Johns Hopkins Medicine’s new five-year strategic plan, a blueprint which identifies mentoring as a key strategy to “attract, engage, retain and develop the world’s best people.” Other priority areas are biomedical discovery, patient- and family-centered care, education, integration and performance.

Mentoring Is a Top Priority

“Many of the institution’s programs and organizations have set up mentoring programs, but each serves a relatively small population,” says Pamela Paulk, senior vice president of human resources for Johns Hopkins Medicine. She and Janice Clements, vice dean for faculty at the school of medicine, are shepherding the “People” priority to strengthen and develop the Johns Hopkins Medicine workforce. We want to make sure those programs are available systemwide to a broader range of people and that the quality of mentoring meets expectations,” Paulk says.  

The strategic plan builds upon an abundance of mentoring programs throughout the enterprise. At Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, the program So You Want to Be a Leader?  prepares aspiring supervisors to succeed in their new roles. At Sibley Memorial Hospital, fledgling nurses learn to manage conflict and stress in the New Grad program. At The Johns Hopkins Hospital, the Making a Difference program expands career horizons for minority employees in general services. 

For Stacey Mann, manager of respiratory care services and heart and lung support for The Charlotte R. Bloomberg Children’s Center, having a mentor has provided a much-needed sounding board. Paired through the Office of Organization Development and Training, she and Julie Kreif, manager of physical medicine and rehabilitation for adult acute care, have met regularly since early this year. Their discussions have provided Mann with useful strategies for empowering respiratory care workers who have no home unit and are dispatched across the hospital. “I’m now working with my staff to recognize opportunities and develop the communication skills they need so they don’t walk away from a situation and say, ‘I’m being discounted.’”

Mentoring is central as well to a clinical research design program that brings together Johns Hopkins faculty members and clinicians at All Children’s Hospital. “Many All Children’s physicians have pinpointed clinical issues that a systematic study can help to resolve,” says Tina Cheng, a professor of pediatrics in the school of medicine. “So we developed a program to teach basic research skills and to mentor staff through their research projects.” 

Program participant Dipti Amin, a hospitalist at All Children’s, has sought to reduce the high readmission rate for children with a chronic illness, but didn’t have the background to conduct the study. Cheng helped Amin to refine her research proposal. “She showed me how to organize a data collection table, pointed out relevant journal articles and helped me weigh competing theories and ideas,” Amin says. 

These discussions led Amin to design a study in which parents and physicians were asked for ways to reduce readmissions. Their suggestions ranged from a better discharge process to a more streamlined system for getting medications approved by insurance companies. Amin’s findings yielded a manuscript now under review by a medical journal. The mentoring relationship has been productive for Cheng, as well. She hopes to enlist Amin as a mentor for similar, Baltimore-based research.

Opening Doors for All

Mentorship is fundamental to the strategic plan’s pursuit of a more equitable and diverse workplace. In the school of medicine, for instance, statistics on retention and promotion testify to a history of gender and racial disparities. 

Although those figures have improved since the launch of numerous programs for professional and leadership development, the plan reinforces Johns Hopkins Medicine’s systemwide commitment to a more welcoming culture for women and underrepresented minorities. 

“Even bright, young faculty members with good skills sets can get lost” if they don’t have the same professional networking opportunities and other social advantages as their peers, says Estelle Gauda, professor of pediatrics and one of the first “Master Mentors” in the school of medicine’s program.   

A young African-American faculty member, for example, may be the first in her family to earn a postgraduate degree and also lack a senior colleague with whom she can identify. “What’s missing is the support of someone who has also been there,” says Gauda, who is chair of the Associate Professor Promotions Committee. Perceptive mentors understand their protégés’ challenges and provide access to the resources necessary for advancement and promising research. “If you get a door open for you, you’ll do well,” Gauda says. 

Jonathan Lewin, director of radiology at Johns Hopkins, who co-chaired the strategic planning process, believes mentoring is as essential for entry-level employees as it is for junior faculty members. “Every member of the Johns Hopkins radiology community has something special to offer. The key to leadership is unlocking those possibilities for every person,” he says.

Lewin attributes the department’s rising scores for employee engagement, patient safety and satisfaction to innovations by junior staff members who have gained a greater say in daily operations, thanks to mentoring and career development initiatives. 

As the strategic plan elevates the importance of mentoring, radiology professor David Yousem hopes to be an advocate for the mentors, as well. Stellar mentors in the school of medicine can spend many hours with mentees, an “activity that is not accounted for by funding.” Service as a mentor should also weigh more heavily in the faculty promotion process, he says. 

A vibrant mentoring relationship depends as much on the mentee as the mentor. In his workshop, Mentees Rule, Yousem describes the responsibilities expected of young faculty members who seek out a mentor, such as setting the agenda and priorities for their relationships. 

He also says that there is no shame in seeking the wisdom of an elder. As a full professor, he still seeks advice from a mentor he’s known since he was a medical student trainee. “To this day, if I pick up my cell phone and call with a question or problem, he answers within two rings.” Without fail, Yousem notes, his mentor gives “absolutely the best advice.” 

—Stephanie Shapiro