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Organizational Change: Building a Gender Mentoring Program for Women in Emergency Medicine

Coffee KlatchMentoring is about building relationships that help guide the newbie through the labyrinth of experiences a physician faces.  Many women have men as mentors for those areas that were considered gender neutral.  But for the specific issues that only women face, as single gals, as moms, as daughters, juggling every other role and demand put on her, well most gals want to sit down face to face with a woman who has walked that path before her.  As female physicians trying to become the best emergency medicine doctor in a male dominated field, well it goes to reason that another woman is more likely to have helpful insights.  

As I watched my female residents – planning her wedding, taking the in service exam, moving into a new house with her new husband, figuring out her career direction, finishing her scholarly project for graduation, deciding when to start a family, and running for chief.   I saw their unique situations and knew they needed faculty members who had DONE at least some of those things, had learned from her choices, and who would have some sage advice for them to consider. 

And so it was.  Gender mentoring was what I knew had to occur.  We began by meeting monthly at a terrific little coffee shop in Broad Ripple, a laid back, hip area of town that draws in the 20-30 something crowd.  We altered this with my small home in a nearby neighborhood.

Over time our attendance grew, so we moved to larger cafes and to the homes of faculty and alumni, who were always gracious and inviting.  The attendance at our meetings was completely voluntary, and I believe that is a big reason that it continues to thrive. 

Our EM Women’s Mentoring Group met last week at a cool cafe next to campus, Creation Cafe.  It is a favorite, because you walk into a world removed from the ED gore and are surrounded by eclectic art, wall murals, a mosaic of tiled tables, whimsically hanging lights, smiling faces, and a buzz of conversation.  Whatever our size, we get accommodated. Add one more chair, bring one more drink.  It’s perfect, because everyone feels invited and included, no matter if they were late getting off of a shift or tired and grouchy from a stressful day.  

Holding our cups of hot coffee, lacking any pretense or air of judgment, female residents, faculty, and students joined together around an inviting table to talk and listen.  Alumni from our program have been more than willing to get involved.  They want to remain connected to a vibrant group of women physicians and they have unique and practical advice to offer about being in community practice that the academic faculty didn’t have. 

So, this time ten physicians showed up—five residents, three faculty, one fellow, and one alumna.  The first 30 minutes or so we spent drinking, ordering appetizers, and, most importantly, catching up on each other’s lives.  We always do a “check in” around a theme.  That night’s theme: something new/exciting/positive that had happened.  One passed her boards, another just took hers.  One signed the contract for her first job, another signed on to a toxicology fellowship/MPH at Emory.  Another gal accepted an EM/Peds fellowship at Indiana University and our student finished her ICU rotation.  And one gal just boasted her “great day off of work.” 

The check in is key.  Yes, we connect. But over time we start to see the themes developing for more formal discussions.  Sometimes we cue into issues arising. 

Based on previous conversations I had prepared an informal didactic talk: “Putting Yourself on Paper.” We focused on tips to writing a personal statement and preparing for your annual review. We practiced writing and presenting an accomplishment based on “PAR” Method.  Problem (challenge, issue, opportunity) – Action (you took to address the issue) – Results (outcome, impact).   Hearing one another verbalize our accomplishments was validating for all. Women are generally uncomfortable at self-promotion.  Women tend to wait for external validation, so teaching them to recognize their own worth and express it to others is crucial.  We ended out didactics with tips on writing your CV and offered website resources.

Next post:  Ten steps for creating, studying and funding your own gender-mentoring program.

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