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Stanford Report, May 6, 1998

Mentoring program gets national attention: 5/98

Mentoring program offers model for other schools


The school's four-year-old Junior Faculty Mentoring Program is getting some national visibility this week at a major workshop in Washington, D.C., where the program's co-directors will discuss Stanford's experience with mentoring.

Dr. Dora Goldstein, professor emerita of molecular pharmacology, and Dr. Lars Vistnes, professor emeritus of functional restoration, will share the podium Wednesday, May 6, at the first National Workshop on Mentoring, giving representatives from academic medical centers across the country a snapshot view of the School of Medicine's mentoring program.

The workshop, sponsored by the U.S. Public Health Service's Office on Women's Health, is geared to improving gender equity in the health professions. Nonetheless, both Goldstein and Vistnes said in interviews last week that they believe mentoring programs are just as important for men entering the academic medical environment as they are for women. "A young male starting out as a junior faculty member is just as vulnerable as anyone. And, in fact, our data show we have about the same percentage of men and women in the [school's mentoring] program. The men need it just as badly," Vistnes said.

A February survey of junior faculty at the School of Medicine found that roughly 70 percent of both male and female respondents had chosen to select an official mentor, Goldstein said. Mentors can be any senior faculty member, either inside or outside the protege's department, who may provide guidance in a variety of ways, she said.

The survey revealed many ways in which mentors have been helpful. Almost all respondents said their mentors took a sincere interest in their careers. Most mentors provided advice on research funding and research methods. In addition, mentors often wrote letters recommending nominated mentees for awards or society memberships. A substantial number of mentees also reported that their mentors had read their manuscripts or grant applications, reflecting a significant time commitment, Goldstein said.

Goldstein said the responses, as well as the feedback she receives regularly through the program, suggest Stanford's program is having a positive impact. "People thank us and tell us it has been helpful," she said. "You know you're doing the right thing."

Many studies have shown that mentoring can improve career satisfaction and success, yet few academic medical centers have taken steps to organize formal mentoring programs, said Dr. Saralyn Mark, senior medical adviser for the federal Office on Women's Health and chair of the National Task Force on Mentoring, which developed the workshop. Stanford's program, she said, has a national reputation for its success and could potentially serve as a model for other programs around the country.

The program was initiated in 1994 by the school's Council on Diversity, which recognized that the perception of a "chilly climate" at the school made faculty hiring and retention difficult. Goldstein said there was a sense among faculty members of being isolated and undervalued, and these feelings were expressed not only by women and minorities but also by white males. The problem of retaining faculty members had become an economic issue as well, Vistnes recalled.

"From a purely economic point of view, I think it was recognized that there were a lot of junior people, especially in the clinical area, who left the university in order to start a private practice," Vistnes said. "It was not just the matter of losing these faculty, but they would open practices literally across the road."

The Council on Diversity proposed launching a mentoring program with the goal of creating a more hospitable climate for young faculty so that they would choose to make Stanford a long-term home. The idea received the endorsement of then-dean Dr. David Korn and the Executive Council, which has fully supported the program throughout its four years, Vistnes said. Marian Knox, associate dean for academic affairs, is now the program administrator.

"If there is a single key to our success," said Vistnes, "it is the tremendous support that we have received from the dean and from the Dean's Office and the Executive Council. Without that, I don't think we could have done what we're doing."

Under the Stanford program, junior faculty members can opt at any time to be paired with one or more mentors, who will serve as their informal advisers until they reach the senior level, at which point they can become mentors themselves, Vistnes said. In addition, to help new junior faculty members get a good start on campus, every newcomer is automatically matched with a mentor when he or she arrives. These new faculty members can choose to stick with their assigned mentor or select another one with whom they feel more closely allied.

The mentoring program sponsors workshops several times a year on such subjects as the appointments and promotions process (always a very popular subject), the housing service and the Medical Center line, Vistnes said. The group also sponsors informal social events, as well as offering a Web site (http://www-med. and an orientation brochure for new faculty, Goldstein said.

Goldstein and Vistnes aren't the only Stanford representatives at this week's national workshop; the school also is sponsoring the attendance of Dr. Daria Mochly-Rosen, associate professor of molecular pharmacology, and Dr. Matilde Nino-Murcia, associate professor of radiology. SR