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Support In And Out Of The OR: Developing Mentorship Models For Surgeons

In the current healthcare environment, demands on surgeons increase with every new regulatory directive and budget-tightening measure. Maybe more than ever before, surgeons are faced with a need to balance a multitude of considerations beyond learning and mastering procedures. Since such topics are often touched on lightly, if at all, during formal training, finding a mentor can be critical for young surgeons.

During the recent Minimally Invasive Surgery Week (MISWeek) meeting in Boston, Susan Khalil, MD, delivered a presentation entitled “Women in Surgery: The Value of Surgical Mentorship.” In her talk, Khalil emphasized the value for young professionals in cultivating connections with those who’ve already figured out how to navigate systems in healthcare environments.

Following the presentation, Khalil explained further why mentorship models are especially critical for surgeons.

“I think that having a mentor in the surgical field is so much more important than in other fields, just because there are so many aspects to the care of the surgical patient,” Khalil said. “That includes not just the challenging surgical portions, but also the preparation for surgery, as well as the post-operative care for a patient — following up with the patient, making sure they are recovering well, and finding complications early on that could otherwise lead to larger problems down the road for the patient.”

Though it’s often true that new healthcare professionals are seeking keys to developing a strong work-life balance, the assumption that they’ll consequently look to mentors for more personal advice is faulty. Instead, Khalil found, mentees are overwhelming hoping to get strictly professional advice — particularly in the area of career progression — from those who’ve offered support.

Khalil noted strong advice in professional areas invariably drives personal relief.

“My ability to do surgery and provide good quality care to my patients is an important part of my own personal well-being and my development,” Khalil explained. “The surgical mentor helps by inspiring you to challenge yourself to more challenging cases and provide higher level care for patients. As a result, it helps the other pieces in your life feel more balanced just because you are performing optimally in that specific aspect of your life.”

As the percentage of women within various surgical fields is steadily increasing, the mentorship model is especially important.

“I think for women in junior faculty to not feel excluded, and to really foster their development, women should seek outside help such as mentorship — especially now while there can be some inequity in some surgical subspecialties that have fewer women,” said Khalil. “I know that there are some specialities that have an underrepresentation of women in spite of the changing pace of women’s involvement in surgery. Also, there are departments who are doing a lot about this.”

It’s clear that experienced surgeons have much to impart of those just getting started in the profession. Khalil noted that mentees have responsibilities in the relationship, too.

“In order to maintain the sponsorship of a mentor or a sponsor, you have to really work towards certain goals and at being productive, as demonstrated through your caseloads, through your procedures, through the research that you do, through the administrative work that you’re able to help out with. You also have to bear in mind the mentor or the sponsor’s time, so that you’re well-prepared for your meetings with them, so that you don’t take a lot of their time without efficient use and efficient productivity.”

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