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Remote Mentorship in Radiation Oncology: Lessons to Share

Open AccessPublished:March 14, 2021DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adro.2021.100686
      Mentorship is a key factor in promoting and maintaining fulfillment in medical practice. Invariably, physician success stories usually have a common thread: an important mentor, or mentors, whose guidance proved invaluable. Finding mentors has been noted as a challenge for women in radiation oncology given low representation in the field.
      • Barry PN
      • Miller KH
      • Ziegler C
      • Hertz R
      • Hanna N
      • Dragun AE.
      Factors affecting gender-based experiences for residents in radiation oncology.
      In 2019, women comprised only 17.4% of department chairs and program directors and 30.7% of faculty.
      • Chowdhary M
      • Chowdhary A
      • Royce TJ
      • et al.
      Women's representation in leadership positions in academic medical oncology, radiation oncology, and surgical oncology programs.
      Digital, or remote, mentorship seems an ideal solution to connect women mentors and mentees, especially given findings that over a quarter of female residents train in programs with less than or equal to 2 female faculty.
      • Osborn VW
      • Doke K
      • Griffith KA
      • et al.
      A survey study of female radiation oncology residents' experiences to inform change.
      In 2018, the Society for Women in Radiation Oncology founded a mentorship program to fill this unmet need, creating over 100 pairings. Participants were paired with members from the next training level up (ie, medical students with residents, etc) unless a specific request was made. Mentees were encouraged to make the initial introduction. We believe this to be the largest initiative of its sort in the field of radiation oncology to date. Given growing interest in using remote mentorship to encourage students to consider radiation oncology and to help trainees to succeed, we write to share lessons from our early experience with this program.
      In our program, mentees and mentors were paired based on preferred commonalities such as geographic region and disease site interest. Afterward, an institutional review board exempt, anonymous survey (Supplementary Materials) was administered to 127 eligible program participants from June to July 2020. Questions were created that related to the following domains: professional characteristics, ethnicity, communication details, pairing satisfaction, and program satisfaction. Many of the questions incorporated a 5-point Likert scale to describe the level of agreement with the provided statement (ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”). There were also open-ended questions for which coding was developed once responses were collected. Ultimately, 27 members answered the survey (Fig 1). Fifty percent of participants were in their pairing for less than 1 year. Despite a low response rate (22%), open-ended questions garnered valuable information that may have immediate relevance as the field embraces remote mentorship in the current environment.
      Figure 1:
      Figure 1Professional characteristics of survey respondents.
      One commonality 23% of respondents noted was a lack of compatibility with their pairing(s), which led to the dyad's demise. When asked if they would like to continue with the same mentor/mentee pairing, one respondent answered, “Did not really develop a relationship with mentee.” Another respondent wrote “Surprisingly, I felt my mentee and I were so different that we did not have much chemistry nor was it a fruitful experience… I didn't expect this, so something to consider with future pairings [is] to have a couple points of commonality.” Other responses relating to lack of compatibility in the pairing can be found on a supplemental word cloud (Fig 2). Additional information gathered from our study can be found in Table 1.
      Figure 2:
      Figure 2Word cloud highlighting compatibility among survey responses.
      Table 1Additional lessons gleaned from the SWRO mentorship program assessment survey
      Race and culture are important commonality points among pairings.

      Location is important in sustainability of pairings.

      Guidance is needed from outside the pairing to keep on track.

      Participants should have the opportunity to change pairings if their current pairing is not fruitful.
      Abbreviation: SWRO = Society for Women in Radiation Oncology.
      Other studies have shown that effective mentorship can be established by assigning pairings with mutual personal interests.
      • Seemann NM
      • Webster F
      • Holden HA
      • et al.
      Women in academic surgery: Why is the playing field still not level?.
      ,
      • Cross M
      • Lee S
      • Bridgman H
      • Thapa DK
      • Cleary M
      • Kornhaber R.
      Benefits, barriers and enablers of mentoring female health academics: An integrative review.
      Pairings based only on similar clinical interests between individuals without compatible personalities can cause the pairing to be unsuccessful owing to the lack of interpersonal reward.
      • Owens BH
      • Herrick CA
      • Kelley JA.
      A prearranged mentorship program: Can it work long distance?.
      ,
      • Jackson VA
      • Palepu A
      • Szalacha L
      • Caswell C
      • Carr PL
      • Inui T.
      Having the right chemistry”: A qualitative study of mentoring in academic medicine.
      In our program, 42.9% reported that they were happy and wanted to continue with their pairing, presumably from commonalities that extend beyond their backgrounds or geographic location. Most of our survey respondents suggested race (17.9%) and geographic location (28.6%) did not affect their pairing success.
      Personality is difficult to perfectly capture on paper; however, there are opportunities to establish better matching by asking questions in this vein. One way that has proved fruitful is personality testing, such as by utilization of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, to help base pairings on compatible personality types.
      • Tripp LO
      • Ed D
      Match-making to enhance the mentoring relationship in student teaching: Learning from a simple personality instrument.
      ,
      • LcRL Crew
      Personality and mentoring: Stepping off on the right foot.
      These results might help evaluate which individuals are likely to have the most cohesive pairings. Ideally, individuals might also be permitted to change their pairings either annually or earlier if compatibility is not found.
      Digital mentorship offers a way to connect individuals across our field and provide the unique specificity needed for enduring effect. Given the increased quality and availability of telecommunication due to increased globalization
      • Gottlieb M
      • Fant A
      • King A
      • et al.
      One click away: Digital mentorship in the modern era.
      and the events of 2020, remote communication is better now than ever before. The lessons from our experience with encouraging digital mentorship through Society for Women in Radiation Oncology may have immediate implications for others considering similar efforts. We hope that sharing our observations will help others as we continue to seek to identify ways to foster the future leaders of our field.

      Appendix. Supplementary materials

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