Mentoring programs are common in most modern-day radiology residencies, spanning hundreds of teaching hospitals and all focuses of the field. In a column published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology, former radiology resident Charlotte S. Taylor, MD, and her mentor at the time, Vani Vijayakumar, MD, outlined a handful of points to help guide other institutions in their implementation of successful programs.
“The mentoring relationship requires effort from both parties, especially in the beginning, but a positive experience can lead to multiple successful research projects from a single resident,” the women wrote. “Residents’ choice to participate in additional projects beyond what is required can be greatly influenced by their relationship with their mentor on their first project.”
According to Taylor and Vijayakumar, these are the dos and don’ts for a mentoring program that will benefit everyone involved.
- Emphasize that both parties benefit. The resident-mentor relationship may seem one-sided—especially when mentors are likely already strapped for time—but it’s not, the authors said. Through a good mentoring program, radiology residents can achieve their first professional publication or presentation, while mentors can transfer some of their busy work to residents and benefit from a decreased workload.
- Keep it light. Mentorship programs don’t have to reach a weekly hourly minimum or be a lifelong commitment. According to Taylor and Vijayakumar’s column, the majority of radiology residents, especially those who don’t want to go into academic radiology, will only participate in one project to fulfill their program and ACGME requirements.
- Focus on research and manuscripts. Despite years of schooling prior to a residency, few students are truly education about the process of assembling a journal-worthy paper. It’s an intimidating task, the authors said, when “the call shifts are frequent and the learning curve is steep.” Actively mentoring lower-level residents in the basics of research and medical publication can help break down that mental barrier and encourage confidence and question-asking. Guiding them through writing a cover letter and the publishing process is also key, the authors said.
- Follow up often. Taylor said follow-up was a crucial part of both her positive and negative mentoring experiences. In the positive ones, she wrote, mentors were available to her whenever she needed to ask a question, and check-in emails and conversations kept her feeling comfortable.
- Be a resource for more resources. Taylor and Vijayakumar suggest that, in addition to being readily available to mentees, mentors ease residents into projects with examples of similarly formatted work. This creates a jumping-off point for the project that makes it less intimidating. “Although this may seem like a great deal of hand-holding, this is actually quite straightforward,” they said.
- Limit residents to one mentor. Residents may actually benefit from relationships with experts in a range of fields, Taylor and Vijayakumar wrote, including research, ethical issues and career planning.
- Underestimate positive reinforcement. Something as simple as a “good job” goes a long way in the mentoring relationship, the authors said. The approval will instill confidence in the resident and strengthen the mentor-mentee relationship.
- Send quick emails with little substance. Taylor said that while in residency, her best mentors would respond to her questions over email within the day or by the next morning, and those responses were well-organized and made her feel her mentors were genuinely interested in her projects and professional development. In her negative experiences, faculty members didn’t respond to her for weeks or got back to her too quickly, sending speedy, suboptimal responses that sunk her confidence levels.
- Underrepresent residents in publications. The authors said a good mentor relationship can turn sour if the resident performed most of the research and did most of the writing that went into a manuscript, but ends up underrepresented in the arrangement of author order in a publication.
In all, residencies can be great opportunities to connect with more experienced professionals and lay the groundwork for future clinical endeavors, Taylor and Vijayakumar said.
“Residents will be much more likely to agree to participate in additional projects if they believe their mentor is available and organized and if the protects proposed are likely to be successful,” they wrote. “A few emails of advice, instruction and encouragement from a mentor can be the cornerstone of a lasting mentoring relationship.”