A formal network of trusted peers and faculty would have been helpful to Mary Shen, M.D., when she was a junior resident. Navigating residency is challenging even without navigating cultural issues, dealing with burnout and trying to figure out how to have a life while training.
Now a third-year resident, she’s directing a mentorship program, along with faculty member Gifty Kwakye, M.D., to connect not only incoming and more senior residents, but faculty and medical students.
Her experience is imprinted on the program.
“That’s been a huge part of shaping how I structured this program,” Shen said.
Creating family with creative pairing
The Anastomosis Mentorship program, as it’s called, was named with intention. Like the namesake procedure, the program aims to create connections between adjacent channels—and enable group coaching by building mentorship families. It was started to fill a vacuum in formalized mentoring, and it became evident the need went beyond traditional career guidance, Shen said.
“We did some focus groups with the incoming residents and ADT residents to see what would be helpful. Suggestions ranged from how to deal with microaggressions in the hospital to prepping for the ABSITE exam, from time-management to how to be an effective ally and physician advocate.”
The recent social unrest further added to the need for an outlet, and a safe space to address the issues across all generations in surgical training.
Seven groups consist of one or two M2 medical students, a PGY1 resident, a PGY4 resident and a faculty member. Medical students apply to be part of the program, while residents are automatically matched and faculty members are hand-selected by the resident focus groups.
To ensure maximum impact of mentorship on both ends of the spectrum, students and faculty were carefully selected.
“We have control over who we choose as faculty and which medical students we choose. We were intentional about prioritizing students who were low income, or underrepresented minorities interested in general surgery,” Shen said.
The groups, which will track together for two years, meet quarterly in person and check in every couple of weeks.
Pairing people at these specific stages in medical school and residency was meant to foster mentoring at times when it’s most critical: For medical students, as they go through clerkship and get ready for residency match, for residents, before their busy PGY3 clinical years and during their academic development and research time.
Having a longitudinal, group approach to mentorship is meant to provide not just support, but early intervention when struggles arise, Shen said.
“It enables early identification of any burnout or distress and provides a safety net to fall back on.”
Rather than match people based on career interests or surgical phenotypes, the directors took a more relationship-centric approach to compatibility. Participants were asked questions geared to personality traits and matched accordingly.
It turns out that knowing whether someone likes horror movies, would be willing to sell everything they own and live on a boat, and whether they’d traveled to a foreign country alone for fun is a good predictor of long-term compatibility, perhaps even when it comes to mentorship.
Topic by committee, evidence-based discussions
The topics for the quarterly meetings were informed by feedback from the residents and reflect areas where they see a need for guidance: managing time effectively, physician advocacy relative to racism, and test prep and burnout.
Academic Development Time residents lead the meetings, walking the groups through a PowerPoint for a given topic, and leading a discussion. The first meeting focused, appropriately, on effective mentorship.
No matter the topic, it’s important to Shen that the discussions have structure beyond a meeting time.
“A crux of the program is that the discussions we have about these cultural issues are evidence based. I got papers on quality mentorship and articles on the Harvard Business Review and discussed the findings from those readings,” Shen said.
To keep the meetings feeling more like a family gathering than a meeting, they’re held outside of the hospital setting—either at someone’s home or a restaurant or bar, with social distancing measures and masks in place.
Quarterly meetings may seem sparse for a mentorship program, and that was intentional; nothing helps create burnout and disengagement like meeting overload.
“We didn’t want to make this another meeting you had to go to after a long day. That was also to make sure there wasn’t an incredible burden on the residents,” Shen said.
She needn’t have worried. The number of people willing to help and eager to volunteer their time and resources surprised Shen. Attending surgeons paid for dinner and drinks out of their own pockets. Others donated mentoring guidebooks.
Though PGY4s are pressed for time and are expected to publish, not a single one opted out of the program. The program was set up with the help of co-residents, Brooke Bredbeck (PGY5), Kerry Madison (PGY3), and medical student, Jessica Santos-Parker (MS4).
“This program really relies on human connection and capacity. We’ve definitely shown that at the University of Michigan, we have a lot of it, and that’s incredibly meaningful,” Shen said.
By Colleen Stone