October 2021 Physician Mentorship and Leadership Development SIG Newsletter
I hope this letter finds you well this fall! In collaboration with ASRA Connect and the ASRA Membership Committee, the ASRA Mentor Match Program has connected mentors and mentees from across the country. For this letter, I wanted to highlight some of these pairings by interviewing two mentor match relationships formed through the Physician Mentorship and Leadership Development SIG and the ASRA Mentor Match Program.
Mentee: John Alexander, MD, MBA. Associate Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Management at UT Southwestern Medical Center. He serves as Medical Director of Pain Services and as Director of the Regional Anesthesia Service for the Parkland Health & Hospital System.
Mentee: Brett Elmore, MD. Associate Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Virginia. He serves as the Associate Program Director for the Regional Anesthesia Fellowship.
Mentor (for both): Kristopher Schroeder, MD, FASA. Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Wisconsin. He serves as the Vice Chair of Faculty Development.
How did you become involved with the SIG?
- Dr. Alexander: I signed up because I was interested in being mentored to help my own professional development, but also to learn how to be a good mentor to others so that I can be a resource for my faculty colleagues and our trainees.
- Dr. Elmore: I was actively looking for external mentors, and my institutional mentor, Dr. Ashley Shilling, was the pioneering force behind the ASRA Physician Mentorship and Leadership Development SIG.
- Dr. Schroeder: I have been interested in the notion of mentorship for several years as I contemplated the benefits that I had obtained from local institutional mentorship and wondered if there might be opportunities to expand mentorship opportunities for those with fewer local institutional resources. I was incredibly lucky that there were faculty at the University of Wisconsin willing to provide opportunities, guidance, patience, and occasional forgiveness, to a fairly “rough around the edges” country boy who knew how to work but not where to start or how to do so with any crumb of subtlety. While not all these opportunities were in the regional anesthesia hemisphere, each contributed to becoming a more experienced, polished, connected, and directed academic physician. I wrote about my mentorship pathway in the ASRA News (Schroeder K. Mentorship Matters. Feb 22, 2019) and it has become increasingly clear to me that mentorship is vitally needed as our physician workforce becomes more youthful and left with fewer experienced mentors and leaders. I became increasingly interested in the creation of this SIG after reading a number of fantastic contributions to the ASRA News and realizing that, within ASRA, there was a group of like-minded physicians interested in mentorship and leadership development and how these attributes could advance our society, profession, and patient care (Shilling A. Leadership Qualities: What Makes a Great Leader? Aug 1, 2020, and Pai,P, Pollard E, and Zouki T. Mentorship in Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine: A Perspective form Trainees and Their Trainees. Jan 31, 2019). I tried to channel this passion for our newly developed SIG in one of my final editorials (Schroeder K. Help! Aug 1, 2020) where I was able to use an assist from the Beatles to try and motivate ASRA members to rally to the cause of mentorship and sign up to mentor and/or be mentored.
- Dr. Alexander: I've never had a formal mentor prior to this, but I have been fortunate to have a few informal mentors who helped me "learn the ropes" and grow as an academic anesthesiologist. I would just like to specifically thank Drs. Irina Gasanova and Girish Joshi for all of their hard work and tireless support on my behalf throughout my career. I am truly fortunate that they took me under their wing, and their support has inspired me to pay it forward to the next generation of anesthesiologists.
- Dr. Elmore: Dr. Ashley Shilling here at UVA Health has long been a mentor and role model to me. I am thankful for her advice, friendship, and guidance. I would not be where I am in my career if not for her.
- Dr. Schroeder: In a professional setting, my first mentorship experience began when Dr. Michael Ford recognized my interest in regional anesthesia and harnessed that enthusiasm to create a sustainable fellowship in regional anesthesia at the University of Wisconsin. From Dr. Ford (Pappa Bear), I learned the value of family (he has a family with 6 children!) and commitment to profession and patient (nobody beats Dr. Ford into the building, staffs more rooms, or leaves later at the end of the day). Dr. George Arndt (inventor of the Arndt Endobronchial Blocker and Arndt Airway Exchange Catheter) was also at UW when I started my career and from him, I learned much more about the value of becoming involved on a national stage and how, with work, you can build something from nothing. From my contemporaries (Drs. Melanie Donnelly, Richard Galgon, Aaron Joffe, etc.), I was able to learn additional lessons that helped to mold me into the academic physician that I am today. Basically, I feel like every interaction holds the promise of professional growth if we allow ourselves to remain open to that opportunity. Even now, as I become more of a grizzled old veteran, I find that there are boundless opportunities for growth and something to be learned via work with my contemporaries, junior faculty, and medical students.
Did you know your mentor/mentee prior to being paired within the program? If so, what was your relationship?
- Dr. Alexander: I didn't know Kris prior to this.
- Dr. Elmore: Kris and I had crossed paths when he was the editor for ASRA News. He edited an article that I submitted as part of their ‘How I Do It’ series. Since then, he helped me with my promotion to associate professor. He’s been a wonderful friend and mentor!
- Dr. Schroeder: I did not have a relationship with John prior to this mentor match program. I had worked with Brett on an article previously for ASRA News but our relationship has grown significantly with the SIG and this program.
What sort of questions did you discuss during your initial meeting with your mentor/mentee? Did you set formal goals or regular meetings?
- Dr. Alexander: We mostly talked about each of our goals for the mentor/mentee relationship. He had a specific goal in that he was starting a new position related to faculty development, and he was looking for ways to develop reciprocal relationships between institutions for junior faculty to do grand rounds/visiting professorships. He was eventually able to talk me into being his "guinea pig" for the project. I was looking for guidance in navigating the academic environment and what sorts of roles and responsibilities I should pursue to align with my interests.
- Dr. Elmore: Since we had some familiarity with one another, we immediately started coordinating ways to collaborate in research, promotion, and education. We also discussed being advocates for the SIG. Having an external mentor has been very helpful to me and we want others to benefit from the process!
- Dr. Schroeder: In my initial meetings with Brett and John, we primarily discussed where they were in their academic development, what they ultimately hoped to accomplish and how to address any barriers to achieving those goals. We did not establish any formal goals or a regular meeting schedule but have attempted to remain in contact via email/text over this last year. The limitations on in-person meetings have represented somewhat of a barrier to further development of these relationships. It is my hope that resumption of normal in-person meeting activities will improve our ability to build on the e-relationships that we have started.
How many times have you connected with your mentor/mentee (email, phone, virtual, or in-person)?
- Dr. Alexander: At least 3-4 times, all virtual so far due to COVID issues, but we will meet in person pretty soon at UW. We have not had a specific formal time interval to check-in with one another.
- Dr. Elmore: Most of our communication has been via email but we’ve texted and hope to meet up at the upcoming ASRA meetings!
- Dr. Schroeder: We have not established a formal meeting frequency but in each case had a lengthy initial meeting followed by intermittent and brief goal-directed interactions.
How has this mentor-mentee relationship helped you as a mentor or mentee?
- Dr. Alexander: Kris encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone by inviting me to come to UW as a visiting professor and give a grand rounds. I loathe public speaking, so I really wanted to say no but I knew it would be good for me, both personally and professionally. I just needed to get over it and take Kris up on his offer. He's also been a good sounding board when I've reached out for advice on various professional challenges that I've faced.
- Dr. Elmore: The mentor-mentee relationship has helped me make connections outside of my own institution and has been instrumental in helping with my promotion to associate professor. Our connection has also broadened my own horizons in terms of research ideas. Additionally, we’ve been able to connect our trainees with potential fellowship openings. It’s been amazing to see how great mentorship extends beyond just the primary mentor-mentee relationship. His drive and desire to help early- and mid-career anesthesiologists is apparent and definitely appreciated.
- Dr. Schroeder: I firmly believe that these relationships benefit everyone that chooses to be involved. From my perspective, it has been outstanding discussing the nuances of regional anesthesia provision and career management with faculty from other institutions. Both of my mentees were already doing great things and are well down the path to achieving academic excellence; therefore, there may have been less mentoring needed than might be required in other pairings. However, I am very excited that we were able to arrange for Dr. Alexander to be our first in-person visiting professor in the COVID era at the University of Wisconsin. I believe that he has a tremendous amount to offer and hope that the junior faculty at UW benefit from learning from and meeting with him. With Dr. Elmore, we are in the preliminary phases of designing a research project that involves faculty from our two institutions. Ultimately, my experience with this program led to the creation of a panel submission with other members of the SIG.
What have you learned through this experience? Do you have any tips on maintaining a good mentoring relationship that is mutually beneficial? What challenges have you experienced?
- Dr. Alexander: I think that setting up clear goals/expectations from the beginning is key. People can be looking for different things from either side of the mentoring relationship, so being up front about one's expectations is important to ensure that the relationship is a good fit for both members. Being limited to virtual interactions thus far has been a challenge, but I think that over the past 18 months we have all gotten somewhat better at building relationships in a virtual environment.
- Dr. Elmore: Regular communication has been helpful for us. I have felt comfortable reaching out with questions, ideas, and suggestions, and Dr. Schroeder has always been approachable and responsive. I was initially worried that the relationship would be one-sided, but it’s also helped me learn how to be a better mentor. My goal is to learn from him and try to pay it forward to others. The pandemic has certainly limited meeting opportunities, but I’m confident that we’ll have a chance to connect in the near future.
- Dr. Schroeder: Through this experience, I have gained a greater appreciation for the shared academic challenges that exist throughout the country. It has simultaneously become clear that the field of pain management is blessed with an abundance of youth. With this youthful age distribution, there is abundant enthusiasm and drive that can be harnessed to simultaneously benefit both mentors and mentees. For me, the lack of in-person interactions has been a significant challenge. However, I believe that if these interactions lead to (at a minimum) one additional connection or opportunity for the junior faculty, then they are a resounding success. Rotating these pairings and a resumption of normal in-person meeting activities will only strengthen the program. Further building this program will ultimately result in a network and culture of mentorship within ASRA that serves as an example for other subspecialty organizations.
Thank you to Drs. Alexander, Elmore, and Schroeder for giving us an inside look at their mentoring relationships!
If you know anyone who may have an interest in joining our group, please have them join here so we can continue to expand our mentorship program!
Patrick Meyer, MD
ASRA Physician Mentorship and Leadership Development SIG