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Today’s the Day to Mentor Women in Medicine

by Barbara Edelheit, MD, AMWA Mentorship Chair

Photo by Joel Muniz @ Unsplash

January is National Mentoring Month, so I’d like to share my mentorship journey. During medical school, I was fortunate to connect to my first mentor, Dr. Ruth Hart, who was the leader of one of my second-year courses and who introduced me to the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA). Dr. Hart was an emergency medicine physician and an incredible mentor even though her specialty was not in my chosen field; I learned so much from her. This experience taught me that mentorship is best when it comes from diverse sources.

Dr. Hart was inspirational in many ways including her focus on professionalism and her sense that the arts helped us learn how to be outstanding physicians. Dr. Hart took her medical students to the theater as a way of demonstrating that a successful physician should also have outside interests and passions. She felt strongly that the arts contributed to the development of empathy in physicians.

In residency, I met my next mentor, Dr. Karen Onel, an attending physician in rheumatology at the Hospital for Special Surgery who was also on the teaching faculty at Cornell.  She served as my inpatient attending during my intern year. She is an outstanding clinician and an incredible teacher with a warm and comforting bedside manner. In observing Dr. Onel in her clinical role, I realized that I wanted to follow in her footsteps as a pediatric rheumatologist and trained with her as a fellow. During my fellowship, my husband and I had our first daughter. Over the next five years, we had two more daughters while I managed a busy clinical career.

To carry the load of my dual roles, I reached out to a coach for insights, and this also helped me to rekindle the love I had for supporting women in medicine. I have attended the Harvard course for Women in Medicine, the Brave Enough conference (3 times) and the Brave Balance course, and most recently, I completed the AMWA ELEVATE Certificate in Leadership. Four years ago, I started and continue to lead the group for women in medicine at my hospital where I also serve as the University of CT faculty mentor for the AMWA group and will be speaking at the upcoming Regional AMWA meeting.

I have learned so much from all of my mentors. A few memories that stand out the most:

  • I appreciate the distinction between mentorship and sponsorship. Both are critically important but a sponsor should help you make connections to get a ‘seat at the table’ and advocate for you.
  • Establish boundaries. Say yes to things you are passionate about and that will help
    advance your career, rather than yes to everything. I had to remind myself of what I may not get to do if I keep saying yes!
  • It is also important to be aware of how many unpaid tasks you are juggling as these citizenship undertakings fall disproportionately to women versus our male counterparts. Recognize that time devoted to these non-promotable and non-compensated tasks take away from opportunities that could increase your compensation or support your desired promotion. If there is a task that brings huge joy and passion, be sure that you can answer, “Yes, I enjoy it”!

AMWA has much value to offer women in medicine, including opportunities to mentor or connect with a mentor. Being part of AMWA ELEVATE was a wonderful opportunity to expand my connections and to learn from women with different specialties, interests, and roles. One
commonality we share is advocating for women’s health.

We need more mentors.  I invite you to get behind this — Join the AMWA Mentorship Committee or Offer to Mentor.

About the Author

Barbara Edelheit, MD is Division Head of Rheumatology at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. She attended medical school at Syracuse University, NY (where she met her husband). In medical school, she served as the President of the AMWA medical school branch and received the AMWA Leadership and Service Award by the Professional and Student Branches of AMWA. She completed a pediatric residency training at Cornell Medical Center followed by fellowship training at the Hospital for Special Surgery also in New York City.

Jodi Godfrey

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