AAOS Bulletin - August, 2005

Mentors lend a helping hand

AAOS mentoring programs foster diversity, leadership skills

By Kathleen Misovic

A little advice, or a push in the right direction, may be just what you need to further your personal and professional growth. Whether you’re just starting out, or looking to advance your career, a mentor who has “been there, done that” can help you focus on your goals. AAOS mentoring programs are designed for orthopaedists at all stages—from students looking to become orthopaedic surgeons and women or minorities working in the specialty, to experienced orthopaedists seeking to expand their leadership skills or to pass along their knowledge to the next generation.

Looking for diversity

A main focus of the AAOS Diversity Committee’s Mentoring Program is to promote diversity in a specialty that is dominated by white males. The program matches minority orthopaedic surgeons with minority medical students to encourage more black and Hispanic students to consider orthopaedics. Mentors in this program also help students get the most out of their experience in medical school and residencies.

Mentor Richard J. Haynes, MD, (center back) and the orthopaedists he has worked with in the AAOS Leadership Fellows Program: (left to right) Alexander Blevens, MD, Susan A. Scherl, MD and Richard A. Schaefer, MD.

“There are very few African American orthopaedic surgeons, so my goal is to be a role model for these young minorities who are interested in the field,” said Erik C. King, MD, an experienced mentor with the AAOS mentoring program who specializes in pediatric orthopaedics and spine surgery at Children’s Memorial Hospital and Northwestern Memorial Hospital, both in Chicago.

“I think it’s helpful for minority students to see someone who looks like them doing something they’d like to be doing,” added Toni M. McLaurin, MD, a new mentor and a specialist in joint diseases and orthopaedic trauma at New York University–Hospital for Joint Diseases.

When the Diversity Committee contacts Dr. King with a student, his first step is to set upe-mail contact with the student, then a one-on-one meeting in his office. “This first meeting is a good time to get to know students, learn their interests and their background,” Dr. King said. “Once we have established a relationship, students will contact me when they have down time and ask if they can spend half a day with me at the office. The answer is always ‘yes.’”

Erik C King, MD

Dr. King invites his mentees to spend time with him during a typical day so they know what to expect if they choose orthopaedics as their specialty. They observe him during office visits with patients, and later on, if they are interested, during surgery.

“One of the things I found when I was a medical student that continues to be the case today is that students get a limited view of what orthopaedic surgeons do outside of the operating room,” he said. “At major medical schools, a lot of emphasis in the orthopaedics program is on inpatient care. But outpatient care is very important and a large part of my job. Helping students understand that a career in orthopaedics means balancing outpatient and inpatient care is a valuable component of what I do as a mentor.”

Dr. King also believes his job as a mentor is to help students realize whether orthopaedics is the correct choice for them. “One of the most difficult aspects of medical training is that students have to make decisions about specialization before they have adequate information,” he said. “Mentoring is one way to help students see around corners and help them make better decisions.”

“When I was trying to make a decision about what specialty to go into, I didn’t have anyone to talk it through with. I went through the process on my own,” said Dr. McLaurin. “I would like to be able to help students so they don’t have to feel like I did.”

Sometimes a mentor can help a student avoid specializing in the wrong field. “When I was a student, one of my mentors was a cardiologist,” Dr. King recalled. “He was definitely a positive role model, but after spending a lot of time with him, I realized I was not interested in being a cardiologist.”

Dr. King also assists his mentees with practical matters such as making the most out of their medical school education and how to prepare for their residency. It’s a practice that his current mentee, Jocelyn Carter, a fourth-year medical student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, appreciates. “Dr. King has been helpful in terms of advising me which electives to take and what to expect in medical school and as a resident,” she said.

Jocelyn Carter

“I am really glad that I was matched with such a patient, interested orthopaedist.”

Throughout medical school, Carter has been fairly certain about her choice to specialize in orthopaedics, and spending time with Dr. King has only strengthened her decision. “I’ve always been interested in bones and joints and I like that orthopaedics enables you to restore mobility and basic function to people who have a deformity or degenerative joint disease or have sustained an injury,” she explained. “It’s rewarding that as an orthopaedist you can help people resume or begin a more normal lifestyle.”

Carter said she regards Dr. King as a valuable resource to help her gather information and get a better grip on her career, albeit a much more personal resource than a textbook or lecture.

“I really appreciate his taking the time to mentor me,” she said. “For doctors to take the time to spend with medical students requires these individuals to be either extremely organized or have a heart of gold. I think Dr. King has both of these qualities.”

Instilling strong leadership skills

Mentees in the AAOS Leadership Fellows Program (LFP) are already practicing orthopaedic surgeons who are certain they picked the correct specialty. Instead of developing their medical skills, they are looking to hone their leadership skills for use in both their practices and in positions on AAOS councils and committees. Every year, 15 mentor/mentee teams are chosen for a one-year partnership that lasts from one Annual Meeting to the next. Throughout the year, the teams meet several times as a group at AAOS meetings and events, and also meet individually.

Richard J. Haynes, MD, a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Houston, has worked as a mentor for three years with three different mentees at different points of their careers. “They’re all smarter than I am,” he joked. “They’re the brightest and the best, and all extremely different in their needs.”

Dr. Haynes’ current mentee is Alexander Blevens, MD, a hand specialist in private practice in Ocean Springs, Miss. “I’m helping Dr. Blevens move from leadership in state-based commitments to national programs,” Dr. Haynes said.

“I’m in the middle of my career, and at the point where I want to get more involved in the Academy and work on my own personal leadership skills,” Dr. Blevens said. “Dr. Haynes is a great mentor because he has been involved in activities I’d like to be involved with.”

Drs. Haynes and Blevens get together regularly and maintain contact through e-mail and phone. Later this summer, Dr. Blevens will be visiting his mentor in Houston and the two will meet again at the Board of Councilors meeting in October before their partnership ends next March. But it won’t be a final parting. “Our formal mentorship will end in March, but I suspect our friendship will continue,” Dr. Blevens said.

Richard A. Schaefer, MD, another of Dr. Haynes’ former mentees, has found that he’s still reaping the benefits of being in the LFP.

“I’m getting together with Dr. Haynes next month at a conference. There are a couple of things I want to discuss with him and ask his advice about,” Dr. Schaefer said. “I’m grateful that the program and my resulting relationship with Dr. Haynes continue to benefit me.”

Part of that relationship was built on their shared military experience. Dr. Schaefer is an Army colonel who specializes in orthopaedic tumors and amputee care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Dr. Haynes is a retired Army colonel who also worked in military medicine. “Dr. Haynes treated patients from the Vietnam War, and I treat patients from Iraq, so we have been able to share our military experiences,” Dr. Schaefer said. “It was very helpful to have a mentor who could relate to me from a military point of view and give pertinent advice.”

A visit to Dr. Haynes and the amputee clinic at Shriners Hospital gave Dr. Schaefer some ideas to take back to his medical practice at Walter Reed. And he uses teaching skills he learned from Dr. Haynes when dealing with medical students and residents. “I think my experience as a mentee helped me become a better mentor,” he said. “As I gain more experience, I would be delighted to be a future mentor for the LFP.”

“More senior orthpaedic surgeons should apply to be mentors in the program,” added Michael F. Schafer, MD, an LFP mentor who is the chairman of orthopaedic surgery at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, and specializes in spine surgery and sports injuries at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “But it does carry a commitment. You need to go to the meetings, get involved with your mentee and try to have them visit you at your institution and visit them at their institution.”

But he admits the sacrifice is worthwhile. “It’s easy to get tied up in your own local perspective. Interacting with all the mentors and mentees and hearing about the challenges they’re facing can provide you with a more national perspective on what’s going on in orthopaedics,” Dr. Schafer said. “And I’ve learned probably as much or more from my mentees as they have learned from me.”

“Another piece of mentoring I think is extremely important is the introductions that happen and networking,” said Dr. Haynes, who believes mentors have an obligation to introduce their mentees to as many orthopaedists involved with leadership as possible.

He met that obligation, according to another of his former mentees, Susan A. Scherl, MD, a pediatric orthopaedist at the University of Nebraska in Omaha. “I met a lot of people in fields outside of pediatrics that I wouldn’t have otherwise met,” she said.

Dr. Scherl joined the LFP after she learned she needed more experience to obtain a council position with the AAOS. “I had applied for a position on the Council on Education, and the head of the council wrote me back saying I didn’t have enough experience. He suggested that I consider participating in the mentoring program,” she said.

Dr. Scherl said she enjoyed the easy camaraderie she had with Dr. Haynes as well as the opportunity to learn from other mentors when all the teams got together for their regular meetings.

“The great thing about the Leadership Fellows Program is that it makes you feel like you have access to all the mentors, not just yours,” Dr. Scherl said.

Women helping other women

Dr. Scherl’s experience with mentoring was so positive that she went on to become the chair of the Ruth Jackson Orthopaedic Society (RJOS) Mentoring Committee. The RJOS is a support and networking group for women orthopaedic surgeons. The society’s mentoring program offers women medical students and residents support and suggestions for surviving an orthopaedic residency.

As an academic orthopaedist, Dr. Sherl is accustomed to spending time with medical students and residents. But she finds mentoring a welcome change from teaching. “It’s a little different than teaching a resident, less formal and a lot of fun,” she said. “Many of us in academic medicine enjoy interacting with people in the beginning stages of their medical careers and seeing things from their perspective.”

“Working with Dr. Scherl solidified my decision to go into orthopaedics,” said Nicole Wilson, of Lombard, Ill., who plans to go into medical school after earning a PhD in biomedical engineering. Wilson first became interested in orthopaedics after undergoing knee and shoulder surgery due to injuries she suffered while playing soccer. After spending time with Dr. Scherl in clinic and on research projects, Wilson said she is confident of her career plans. “Having someone like Dr. Scherl to help me, I really feel like I have a grip on how to accomplish my goal of getting an orthopaedic residency,” she said.

Would you like to be a mentor or mentee? For more information on getting involved with one of these three mentoring programs:

• AAOS Diversity Committee Mentoring Program: (800) 626-6726, or email mentor@aaos.org

• Leadership Fellows Program: (847) 384-4342, or visit their Web Site.

• Ruth Jackson Orthopaedic Society Mentoring Program: (847) 698-1637, or visit http://www.rjos.org/mentoring/index.htm

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