AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 28, Number 4, 2019

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Inspiring Diverse Minds: The Value of Online Mentorship

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“The brain is among the most powerful and complex organs in the human body. Brains give rise to our ability to form relationships and make life meaningful.” 

Paul Kalanithi1

While doing research, I learned that discoveries made in the lab might result in profound clinical advancements for patient care. This lead to my initial interest in neurosurgery. As I develop and, I hope, contribute to the creation of novel therapeutic care, it is important to build upon the groundbreaking discoveries made by today’s physicians. Mentorship is critical for continual support and inspiration. While I am fortunate to study at an institution where mentors are eager to share their passions with medical students, for many the process of searching for the right mentor can be overwhelming and quite difficult. Enter the new value of online mentorship.

One specific challenge to mentorship relates to diversity. For example, I have not come across many neurosurgeons who look like me, a black woman. Diversity in the field has grown over the past several years; however, there is certainly room for progress. Women, for example, have occupied only about 10% of neurosurgery residency programs over the past several years.4

Ms. Ejikeme and Dr. Sweet

Mentoring has been shown to be the most important factor for medical students in their choice of a specialty. Staff physicians must relate to their students beyond the academic scope to form more authentic and effective relationships. An important aspect of mentorship involves fostering a relationship that involves mutual give and take. This aspect of mentorship is particularly key in the recruitment of under-represented minority groups to medicine.2,3 These similarities help to further a student’s academic and professional development, while also providing emotional support.

Further complicating this equation is how the medical student experience has evolved with the advent of technology. Previously, students pursuing mentorship relationships reached out to attendings through organized forums, such as lectures and conferences. Now, students are more dependent on podcasts and social media outlets, like YouTube, Instagram and Twitter, to learn about different specialties and the related lifestyles. Consequently, some physicians have blogs to connect with students. They post about their medical experiences and other work-life balance topics. Physicians’ online presence has allowed for a new form of mentorship to develop – one in which the student can connect with the attending without meeting in person.

I am fascinated with the number of female neurosurgeons we have at Case Western Reserve Medical School’s University Hospitals. I learned about Jennifer Sweet, MD, FAANS, current chair of the Women In Neurosurgery (WINS) organization, and the outstanding work she has done with deep brain stimulation (DBS) and epilepsy through the podcast, The Undifferentiated Medical Student. A major focus of WINS is to foster mentor relationships with students. To accomplish this goal, they have created an online portal through which students can connect with surgeons throughout the world.  

Supporting efforts like WINS’ online mentorship portal, will help foster and develop mentorship relationships for students around the world. This online portal should be further developed so that surgeons and students can create their own individual profiles to more deeply engage with each other. Topics to discuss in this forum may include personal journeys to neurosurgery and social aspects that are unique to those experiences. Ideally, this resource should showcase the diversity of neurosurgeons currently in the field. In doing so, we can inspire students to become neurosurgeons and advance the field as we grow to understand the complexities of the central nervous system.

The time has come to exploit the power of technology for our patients and also to inspire diverse minds, maximizing the value of online mentorship.

References

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1. Kalanithi, P. (2016). When breath becomes air. Toronto: CNIB.

2. Nimmons, D., Giny, S., & Rosenthal, J. (2019). Medical student mentoring programs: current insights. Advances in Medical Education and Practice, 10, 113–123. doi: 10.2147/amep.s154974

3. Spetzler, R. (2011). Progress of women in neurosurgery. Asian Journal of Neurosurgery6(1), 6. doi: 10.4103/1793-5482.85627

4. Sambunjak, D., Straus, S. E., & Marusic, A. (2009). A Systematic Review of Qualitative Research on the Meaning and Characteristics of Mentoring in Academic Medicine. Journal of General Internal Medicine25(1), 72–78. doi: 10.1007/s11606-009-1165-8

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