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New mentorship program connects faculty across KU School of Medicine

About 80 mentor-mentee pairs resulted from a pilot program, and some of the pairs connected faculty working at campuses 200 miles away from each other.

Zoom screenshot of Dr. Ofei-Dodoo with mentor Dr. Faseru
Samuel Ofei-Dodoo, Ph.D., assistant professor in Family & Community Medicine at KU School of Medicine-Wichita, meets via Zoom with his mentor, Babalola Faseru, MB.ChB, MPH, associate professor in Population Health and Family Medicine & Community Health at KU Medical Center.

“Finding a mentor is always the last thing on the to-do list, and the last thing on the to-do list never gets done,” said Gretchen Irwin, M.D.

A new KU School of Medicine program is helping with that.

Gretchen IrwinIrwin, associate professor in the Department of Family & Community Medicine at KU School of Medicine-Wichita, participated in the faculty mentorship pilot program, which ran over the 2021-22 academic year.  

The idea for the program came out of exit interviews Brad Barth, M.D., conducted with faculty leaving the School of Medicine.

“I wanted to know what we could be doing better,” said Barth, the associate dean for faculty development. He noticed a common theme in the interviews.

“Junior faculty often had trouble finding a mentor, especially outside their department,” he said.

Tessa RohrbergTessa Rohrberg, M.D., who has served as an assistant professor in family and community medicine since 2019, can identify with that.

“I’m blessed to have wonderful mentors in family medicine, but it can be difficult to connect with people in other areas,” she said.

Having identified a need for more mentoring relationships, Barth began planning a pilot program for the Wichita and Kansas City campuses. About 80 mentor-mentee pairs resulted, many of which connected faculty working at campuses 200 miles away from each other.

Barth employed two main strategies to create effective mentor/mentee matches.

Faculty seeking mentors selected from a list of 25 different areas of interest, including academic promotion, classroom skills, clinical research, leadership and funding.

Other options include maintaining a balance between family and career obligations and navigating a career as a woman or under-represented minority.

Program participants also took the Big Five Inventory, a personality test that measures factors such as openness to experience and extraversion to determine a person’s outlook on the world.

“If (a mentor) sees the world similarly to you, their advice is more likely to be effective for you,” Barth said. “If you’re very introverted and have an extroverted mentor who tells you to start standing up and talking at meetings, that’s not going to be super helpful.”

Barth used the Big Five Inventory and survey results to create groups of 30-40 faculty. Each cohort met online, and faculty had the chance to talk to potential mentors in breakout rooms.

From there, mentees were asked to rank their top three mentor choices. However, Barth said about half left the decision up to the Faculty Development team.

About 20% of faculty took on both roles, including Irwin. Some mentees wound up with two or more mentors. The cohorts continued to meet quarterly throughout the academic year.

“To have someone put in that effort to match people based on their interests is very valuable,” said Rohrberg.

As a mother of two young children, she was looking for guidance on how to balance her clinical and faculty responsibilities with raising a family. The program paired her with a pediatric researcher and a trauma surgeon, both of whom are also mothers.

“One thing that has really stuck with me is saying no to things that don’t align with my interests and the amount of time I have,” she said. “One of my mentors said that saying no doesn’t change the reason someone asked you — you’re still a valuable member of the team.”

Rohrberg has met with her mentors about once a quarter, and their conversations aren’t limited to motherhood. She says she has also received valuable feedback about promotion, networking and research.

Samuel Ofei-Dodoo, Ph.D.When he heard about the pilot program, Samuel Ofei-Dodoo, Ph.D., assistant professor in family and community medicine at KU School of Medicine-Wichita, said, “Hallelujah,” he remembers.

Like many faculty, Ofei-Dodoo already had established mentors. But as one of the few KU School of Medicine-Wichita faculty on the educator track, he was interested in learning from others on the same path.

The program paired Ofei-Dodoo with three mentors, and they each brought something different and helpful, he said.

“(One) kept poking holes in what I was saying,” he said. “Then she came in and filled all the gaps.”

Ofei-Dodoo had already submitted his application for tenure, which was approved last year.

“One of my mentors looked at my CV and said, ‘I have no doubt you are going to be promoted, but let's think about moving from mid-career to an established career,’” he said. “And she walked me through the expectations and suggested things I need to do.”

That included publishing data Ofei-Dodoo collected in conjunction with an educational program he designed. The work he did as a result is now under journal review.

Irwin, Rohrberg and Ofei-Dodoo all said they would encourage colleagues to pursue mentorship through the program, and they all cited the value of connecting to colleagues on another campus.

“My advice would be to keep an open mind,” Rohrberg said. “The program is unique, and it can be unique to you and what your needs are.”

Barth and his colleagues are in the process of assigning mentors for the second iteration of the program, which has expanded to include faculty on the Salina campus. Mentees who have already gone through the program can continue with their established relationships and/or be paired with a new mentor.

This year, the Faculty Development group hosted panels about how to form good mentoring relationships.

“One of the things that is surprising, but nearly universal, is the mentee really needs to drive the process,” Barth said. “It’s a hard thing for junior faculty to recognize. This person volunteered to help, and they want to hear from (their mentee). They'll also tell you if it's too much. That's how they got to be where they are — by balancing their time.”

Next month, Barth will deliver a presentation about the pilot program at the Group on Faculty Affairs Professional Development Virtual Conference, which is affiliated with the Association of American Medical Colleges.

“We’re hoping to put the material together and get it published somewhere,” he said.

Profile photos, from top: Gretchen Irwin, M.D.; Tessa Rohrberg, M.D.; Brad Barth, M.D.; and Samuel Ofei-Dodoo, Ph.D.

KU School of Medicine-Wichita