Nowhere is female mentorship more scarce and needed than in the medical industry. Unfortunately, women have historically been underrepresented in healthcare leadership and continue to make up the minority in medical administration.
In 2019, five researchers sought to evaluate medical mentorship among women. The study’s results confirmed the gross gender inequality in medical leadership and health academia.
The study concluded, “Women remain underrepresented in academic medicine, particularly leadership positions. This lack of women in leadership has been shown to affect patient care and educational outcomes negatively. Similarly, the literature demonstrates that female physicians are less likely to have mentors, despite the proven benefits of mentorship for career advancement.”
Dr. Joanne Loethen, Chair of MSMA’s Women Physicians Section, also reported that female physicians are less likely to have mentors. This is unfortunate, considering that female mentors are essential to career growth and advancement. Unfortunately, mentorship is also how gender equality is more quickly eradicated.
“In academic medicine, women continue to be underrepresented and report a lack of mentorship despite the known benefits of these relationships on career advancement and professional development,” writes Loethen. “A review of mentorship programs among academic institutions show that providing a framework for mentor-mentee relationships can help promote and retain women in academic medicine.”
Creating Mentorship Opportunities
Fortunately, Loethen suggested that mentorship opportunities for women can exist outside of formal programs. These personal mentorships also have strong impacts on future generations.
Dr. Anupriya Grover-Wenk is a faculty member at Abington Jefferson Health and an Assistant Clinical Professor at Tufts University School of Medicine. After gathering data and interviewing several female medical students for her Master’s thesis, she was greatly disturbed by the lack of mentorship possibilities for women in healthcare.
Today, Grover-Wenk personally mentors women at her Alma Mater, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, and Tufts University School of Medicine. However, she has also found ways to create alternative mentorship opportunities that reach more women. For example, Grover-Wenk co-founded two Women in Medicine groups at family medicine residencies affiliated with Tufts University School of Medicine. She also volunteers at Prescribe it Forward, a non-profit for first-generation college students seeking mentorship for medical school.
“I want to change the outlook of mentorship for female physicians, as they shoulder a disproportionate amount of non-professional activities and suffer depression and burnout at higher rates than their male physician counterparts,” says Grover-Wenk. “Female physicians don’t need to be a statistic; we can create a system where female physicians are supported best for their unique needs and challenges.”
“Women are worthy of sitting at the table and making decisions that provide more support and equity across medicine for women. Therefore, I strive to create more spaces for female physicians to shine and grow through mentorship in hopes that other women will be inspired to lead the charge in their hospital systems.”
Tlalit Bussi Tel Tzure is the Vice President of Business Development and Global Marketing for the medical device company IceCure Medical. Tzure is also passionate about increasing the amount of seeing more women in healthcare leadership positions, particularly within cancer management. Fortunately, Tzure reports that progress is happening as more organizations are created that support female healthcare professionals.
“We must expand and offer more scholarships, women’s healthcare leadership programs, and mentoring and prioritize increasing female role models to inspire the next generation,” Tzure says. “This will all positively impact increasing women leaders in healthcare… In addition, we must work together to build women’s networks in the healthcare field comparable to those founded and established by men many years ago.”
The Power of Female Mentorship in Business
Mentorship has proven impactful in many other business verticals. For example, about 70% of Fortune 500 companies have a formal mentoring program, as do about 25% of smaller companies. Of course, oversight, engagement, and programming vary, but the data and the anecdotes show clear positive ripple effects vertically and horizontally within companies that offer to mentor.
One business that studied its own mentor program found that employees who received mentoring were promoted five times more often than those who were not. And both mentors and mentees were 20% more likely to get a raise than people who didn’t participate in the program.
Unfortunately, gender equality has not caught up in the mentoring realm. A study by DDI World found that only 37% of women have had a mentor in their career – which means that about two in three women have not. Combined with an estimated 865,000 women leaving the workforce during the pandemic, there is no telling how mentoring could have had an impact. It remains to be seen how the departure of women from the workforce will affect the landscape, particularly for mentoring.
Mentoring women is certainly about showing them the career options and advancement opportunities that lay above them and in front of them. But it is just as much about building self-esteem and providing inspiration so that women believe they can further their careers. Mentors can teach women how to advocate for themselves professionally or personally. And no statistic or dollar amount can measure the value of that type of knowledge.
How to Find a Mentor in Healthcare
If you are a female in healthcare seeking mentorship, consider using the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) mentorship toolkit. Using the help of medical residents and fellows, the AMWA created this resource to help mentees outline and articulate their ultimate career goals. In addition, this toolkit can help women define and discover the specific support they need in their mentorship and professional journey.
Individuals early in their careers or still in medical school may consider creating their groups on campus. This is a wonderful way to champion and connects with other women before gaining personal industry experience.
LinkedIn is another place to find experienced healthcare professionals. According to Linkedin, “The site hosts 7.1 million healthcare professionals. In addition, Healthcare influencers on the platform boast more than 2.4 million followers combined. These figures are growing year over year.”
Every professional was a novice once. As a result, they will know what it is like to ask for help. Hopefully, they have also personally experienced the difference that mentorship can make in a career.