Mentors Needed Throughout Careers

September 25, 2013

Some radiologists are seeking to revive mentoring both locally and nationally as a way to support the specialty.

Some radiologists are working to expand mentoring, calling it a vital component for securing the future of the profession and critical for empowering individual careers.

The effort to facilitate post-training mentoring relationships is being championed, in part, by those who see a direct relationship between the need for leadership as radiology faces the challenges that come with health care reform and the changing landscape of the profession.

While there is a long history of mentoring medical students through the various components of their training, the formalized relationships between young and experienced radiologists often disappears as careers take hold.

“After residency and fellowship, you just drop off to this big machine of radiology,” said Peter Van Geertruyden, MD, a radiologist at Virginia-based EagleEye Radiology, who is among those actively trying to establish mentoring networks for practicing radiologists. “Some are looking for more direction because it is intimidating not to have anything.”

Last year Van Geertruyden, working with the American College of Radiology (ACR), helped launch a mentoring network for the Young and Early Career Physician Section at the College. The network, which is still in its infancy, is intended to help connect mentors with radiologists who are either under 40 years old or are within eight years of their training.

The concept behind the network is that radiologists can reach out to peers with questions about their career paths by finding others who share similarities in research interests, sub-specialty, or geographic location.

Questions surrounding establishing a private practice, or navigating a path in academics inevitably come up as radiologists consider first jobs or next steps during a point in life that is typically dominated by many major transitions, said Arun Krishnaraj, MD, an abdominal imaging and intervention radiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital who also serves as a mentor and was also involved in establishing the network.

"We thought, there is a void and a great opportunity to establish intermediate mentors as people are getting settled in their careers,” Krishnaraj said.

Additionally, by providing a venue for addressing early career questions, Van Geertruyden said he hopes it sparks an interest among young radiologists to assume leadership positions within the profession and engage in the broader issues facing radiologists from political, economic, and clinical standpoints.

So far few have used the network, something Van Geertruyden said he suspects is because few realize the service, which is housed on ACR’s website, exists.

Even as the two radiologists, both of whom are early in their own careers, tackle the mentoring needs of their peers on a national scale, others in the field are calling for more to be done at a local level.

“I would suggest we look at midcareer mentorship,” said Ruth Carlos, MD, professor of radiology at the University of Michigan.  “In academics there is a lot of focus on launching junior faculty to be productive members of society, but there is a little less focus on helping radiologists navigating midcareer – for those in practice 10 years, who are asking ‘what’s next, how do you navigate the next phase?’ … That path isn’t as well defined. I think it can be a struggle, that’s why people have a mid-life crisis.”

Establishing mentoring relationships at the local level and through employers would go a long way to helping radiologists navigate their careers, said Lawrence Muroff, MD, CEO and president of Imaging Consultants Inc. and a clinical professor of radiology at both the University of Florida and the University of South Florida Colleges of Medicine.

“In private practice, we do a bad job allowing young persons the opportunity to discuss issues and concerns in a non-judgmental way,” Muroff said. “So they stay quiet until they are full partners, and then the real individual emerges. There is no one that the practice designates to a young individual that they can talk to without fear of retribution.”

Mentors within a practice could help to curb issues down the road and create an environment that allows the entire practice to navigate the complexities of the changing healthcare landscape together, Muroff said.

“We don’t tell them what it takes to be a good citizen of my practice,” he said. “All we tell them is to churn out the work, and this unreasonable emphasis on clinical productivity really takes away from the broader needs and skills that are important, the non-RVU producing things like consulting, going to conferences, imbedding into political and social medical structures of hospital and community.”

Carlos has seen the value of mentoring through her involvement with the Association of University Radiologists GE Radiology Research Academic Fellowship (GERRAF) award program – she currently chairs the board of review. For the fellows mentoring is a major component, with the program facilitating exchanges through retreats, encouraging phone calls, and identifying mentors who bring an outside and valuable view to the research projects being pursued.

“We are a small program, hosting four fellows a year,” she said. “But it has been around 25 years. And I would say that this small cadre has had an outsized contribution to the field of radiology.”

Facilitating lifelong mentoring relationships and encouraging fellows to seek out advice as they pursue their research and careers are among the factors that have built the program’s success, she said.

Trying to figure out a way to translate the success of mentoring in programs, such as GERRAF, and other educational environments with the needs of midcareer physicians is difficult, though.

“It’s hard because the transition is not as well defined in midcareer,” Carlos said. “I don’t think as much attention has been given to it. We need the structure to encourage people to seek out these relationships and to make it feel natural so you don’t feel weird calling up and saying, ‘Hey, I need advice.’ ”

Plus, mentoring is a two-way street, where there is also a need for the experienced in the field to be willing to share their expertise, Muroff said.

“To me, mentoring is the ultimate way that you can pay it forward and pay back what the specialty has done for you,” he said. “It is about ensuring, in a forward sense, the strength and ability of new people to keep the specialty going forward.”