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Team Mentoring: A New Approach For the 21st Century

Mentoring makes a profound difference. It influences careers, energizes discoveries and enhances professions. New students, practitioners and researchers need mentors to provide advice and guidance that helps move them forward. Faculty, clinicians and investigators must nurture mentees to advance the mission of improving health.

Finding the right mentor-mentee match continues to be critical, yet the traditional one-on-one model is often no longer ideal. In today’s paradigm of interprofessional training, interdisciplinary science and outcomes-focused patient care, the goal becomes building the best team of mentors. Achieving sustainable improvement in health depends on innovating at the intersection of disciplines. Team mentoring is where it all begins.

Pursuing an unexpected career path
I started my career as an eating disorder clinician treating young women who had anorexia nervosa. I became so intrigued by the impact of nutritional imbalances on the immune system that I obtained additional training in infectious diseases. I finished learning about immune cells as the AIDS epidemic emerged. I was so enthralled that I changed course to become an HIV doctor researching the immune system response to opportunistic infections. Two mentors helped me chart this new career direction — a virologist specializing in cytomegalovirus and a parasitologist studying toxoplasmosis.
One day during my infectious disease fellowship, I combined the passions of my two mentors and infected mice with both toxoplasmosis and cytomegalovirus. All the mice died! As a fellow-in-training, my initial reaction was that I had made an error. What actually happened was the virus-induced immunosuppression allowed the reactivation of toxoplasmosis. In contrast to the traditional study of a single infection, combining a viral and a parasitic model revealed mechanisms of dual infection, a scenario well-described in clinical practice. I experienced that mentees can be the bridge that leads to innovation by bringing together mentors working in diverse fields.

Creating productive mentoring relationships
At the beginning of my career I did not predict that immunology would be my calling or that I would become dean of a medical school, CEO of an academic health center, and now president of a national biomedical research foundation. The turns in my path underscore three key messages for mentees: Keep an open mind for unexpected opportunities, embrace the excitement of change and cultivate a team of mentors that you can modify throughout your professional development.
I have been involved in a wide range of team mentoring environments from the mentee and mentor perspectives. Each experience confirms the value of a team of multisector mentors who contribute different skills, expertise, perspectives, backgrounds and networks. At all stages of my career, I integrated insights from multiple mentors in academia, business, public service, philanthropy and a spectrum of health professions. Importantly, I also reached beyond formal mentoring programs to establish informal mentoring relationships among peers, interprofessional groups and civic organizations.
To obtain mentors, mentees must research appropriate mentors and catalyze mentors’ interest by demonstrating talent, performance and potential. Relationships must offer advantages to mentors and mentees, and be based on a foundation of appreciation and trust that supports open communication about goals, expectations and progress. The guiding principle is that mentors facilitate success, and mentees
are responsible for making it happen.

Leveraging diverse teams
To get the most from team mentoring, mentees need to incorporate diversity into their team building strategy. Studies1 have found that the best teams are diverse teams — diversity in disciplines, professions, knowledge and abilities, as well as age, gender, background, life experiences, among others. Teams that combine different viewpoints make better decisions, find better solutions and produce better outcomes than individual experts working alone or groups of homogeneous experts. My experiences as a mentee demonstrate that uniting diverse perspectives can lead to breakthroughs in the laboratory, as well as new, exciting and unexpected changes in careers.
Team mentoring often provides more advantages to mentees and opens a broader scope of doors than one-on-one mentoring — and is critical in the new era of team-focused research, education and clinical care. Mentees benefit because they can learn from multiple perspectives and combine ideas to develop new directions of study. Mentors also benefit from opportunities to connect with team members whom they otherwise might not have met. High-functioning teams get results — and teamwork is exhilarating! Team mentoring establishes the underlying collaborative culture that is required for achieving the goal that all health professionals share — improving health and healthcare for everyone.

Author: Dr. Claire Pomeroy

Claire Pomeroy

Dr. Claire Pomeroy (M.D., M.B.A.), President of the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, has served as Chair of the Council of Deans of the Association of American Medical Colleges and Chair of the Board of Directors of the Association of Academic Health Centers.

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