Meaningful Mentoring Makes A Difference
By: Carrie Byington, M.D. | Dec 17, 2015 4:00 PM
Diversity fuels innovation. I’ve written about this before—about how creative solutions to big problems requires a diversity of thought and perspective. Today, I’ve invited our associate vice president for faculty and academic affairs Carrie Byington, M.D., to explain a mentoring program that is making campus a better, more inclusive place to learn, work and innovate while helping to solve the physician-scientist shortage.
My father wept when I told him I was going to medical school, but his tears of joy were tinged with sadness. He knew that as a Mexican-American woman from rural south Texas, I would have a tough road ahead of me. He was right. Yet the struggles I encountered along the way and the mentors who reached out to me made me stronger. I learned that mentoring matters, and was determined to bring a new model of mentorship to clinician scientists.
With the support of the Department of Pediatrics, particularly the Chair, Ed Clark, M.D., I founded a comprehensive mentoring program eight years ago. Three years ago, Vivian Lee, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., encouraged me to open the program, now called Vice President’s Clinical and Translational Research (VPCAT), to all of the health sciences. The VPCAT program is designed to provide support and to launch the careers of clinical scientist faculty, including those who feel like outsiders to the worlds of science and medicine as I did.
I can’t help but smile when looking at a picture of four of this year’s graduates, who finished the rigorous two-year program last week. The minority women - an orthopaedic specialist, a doctor in occupational medicine, a surgeon, and a bioengineer - are the perfect ambassadors for VPCAT. The most recent snapshot of a growing inclusiveness, they are part of a class of 18 who come from all walks of life: they are from the College of Health, School of Medicine, and College of Nursing; 11 are women, and 8 are minorities. To date, 53 percent of our 86 participants have been women and 12 percent underrepresented minorities, up from national averages of 30 and 5 percent for clinical scientists.
Equally as important, our statistics show that VPCAT sets our scholars on a path for success. Within their short time in the program, the 2015 graduating class collectively received 72 research grants, worth $12.6 million. Over the course of eight years, our CAT scholars have been awarded nearly $50 million in grant funding. An impressive 92 percent of our participants have received extramural funding during their time in the program, eclipsing the national averages for first time applicants for grants from the National Institutes of Health. Together with the other leaders of VPCAT, Heather Keenan, M.D., Ph.D., John Phillips, Ph.D., Rebecca Childs, Erin Wachs, Mary Anne Berzins, Kim Clark, Maria Torres, Jan Abramson, Vivian Lee, M.D., PhD., M.B.A., and Edward Clark, M.D., we proudly reported these accomplishments in the journal Academic Medicine, published last week.
What sets this training program apart is a layered mentorship model that builds foundations for key aspects of a scholar’s career. The scholar is taught self-mentoring, a crucial skill for astute decision-making. In a shell surrounding the scholar are scientific mentors who foster academic and methodological rigor, trained senior mentors who provide an unbiased perspective for career development, peer mentors who support each other through shared experiences, and staff mentors who teach them to navigate the complex world of research administration and compliance.
We built VPCAT on the premise that a mentorship program that is holistic and nurturing should be more likely to help anyone reach their potential, regardless of their background. It does away with the traditional one-on-one mentoring model, in which women and underrepresented minorities could be intimidated from approaching an established, principal investigator, typically a white man. To me, the fact that 95 percent of our VPCAT scholars has remained at the University of Utah speaks volumes. It’s a sign that these scholars feel valued, and that their work is important.
At the beginning of my career, I often felt like an imposter in the world of academic medicine. Now I appreciate the diverse life circumstances that make each of us different, and know that they are a rich source of new ideas. VPCAT has succeeded in part because we bring together scientists from all the schools and colleges in health sciences. In 2016, we will also bring in investigators from the College of Social and Behavioral Health because we believe that sharing ideas and methods across disciplines results in better science. My goal is that VPCAT will continue to grow an increasingly diverse and inclusive research portfolio, ultimately expanding the pool of patients who will benefit from them.
Read more about VPCAT, “Comprehensive Mentoring Program Builds Foundation for Success.”
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