Developing a new model for mentoring in academic medicine

The National Initiative on Gender, Culture and Leadership in Medicine (C-Change) has been awarded a prestigious National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to study a mentoring program for mid-career medical school and teaching hospital faculty.

Linda PololiPhoto: Mike Lovett

Linda Pololi

A team of researchers of the National Initiative on Gender, Culture and Leadership in Medicine (C-Change) at the Women’s Studies Research Center (WSRC) has received a 5-year, $3.25 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to contribute to our understanding of mentoring in academic medicine. 

C-Change, which is short for culture change, aims to change the culture of academic medicine and diversify the ranks of academic medical researchers and, under the grant, will study the novel mentoring program it has developed for mid-career medical school and teaching hospital faculty.

Principal investigator Linda Pololi, distinguished research scientist and resident scholar at the WSRC and the director of C-Change, will lead the study, which builds on an ongoing evaluation by C-Change’s Mentoring and Leadership Institute begun three years ago at Brandeis.

Traditionally, mentoring programs have involved a senior staff member taking a younger one under their wing. Research has shown this approach to be problematic because older mentors are hard to find and their goals and expectations may not accord with those of their mentees. This approach can also work to the disadvantage of underrepresented minority group members and women scientists.

C-Change uses a peer group mentoring approach where a cohort of physician-scientists meet quarterly in a year-long program to develop their careers through reflective dialogue and skill development in areas necessary for professional advancement, leadership, cultural awareness and appreciation of difference and diversity. 

Pololi said “maintaining the strength and competitiveness of U.S. science depends on maintaining an optimally vital and appropriately diverse science workforce. This study represents a chapter in Brandeis’ long-standing dedication to social justice.” 

The peer group-mentoring model is especially effective, she said, because “meetings are designed to embody characteristics of the culture needed in medical schools to support relationship formation, alignment of personal core values and professional goals and meaningful careers.”

“C-Change is well positioned to contribute new knowledge that will improve mentoring and the culture of medical schools, and that seeks to close the relative lack of advancement of women and those members from groups underrepresented in biomedical research,” she added.  

Mark Brimhall-Vargas, chief diversity officer and vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, said C-Change’s peer mentoring program will provide participants support in the a) development of their careers, b) improvement of their supervision skills, and c) focusing their grant acquisition efforts. 

"Because the program relies heavily on a peer-to-peer mentorship model, this program has a uniquely positive impact on women and people of color who, like anyone else, will need mid-career mentoring, but often do not have mentors who share their identities," he said.  

"This program is also important because it will also improve the retention of diverse faculty in academic medicine. As faculty develop their careers with supportive peer mentoring, we expect to see a positive impact on faculty self-efficacy and career trajectory."

C-Change was started 12 years ago and has grown to include evidence-based surveys to evaluate the experiences of faculty, medical students and residents and the culture at academic medical centers. It also advises medical schools on culture change programs to implement in their institutions.

In addition to Brandeis, there are 10 other studies funded nationally to study mentoring in a cooperative agreement with NIH.

Categories: Humanities and Social Sciences, Research

Return to the BrandeisNOW homepage