Sperduto AL, McKee MJ, DeLong LK, Veledar E, Chen SC. Describing the State of Mentoring in Academic Dermatology. JAMA Dermatol. 2013;149(4):486-488. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.1163
Author Affiliations: Departments of Dermatology (Drs Sperduto, Delong, and Chen) and Internal Medicine (Dr McKee), Division of Cardiology (Dr Veledar), Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia; and Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Atlanta, Georgia (Dr Delong and Chen).
The attrition rate of faculty from academic dermatology programs is increasing, and department chairpersons have perceived low income, family obligations, and desire for more autonomy to be top reasons for academic faculty attrition.1 Though it is clear that mentoring is perceived to be important for career selection, advancement, and productivity, there is little evidence to support this perception,2 especially as it applies to faculty retention. Recent studies have focused on the mentor relationship involving resident-level physicians.3,4 We aimed to investigate the impact of mentorship among faculty members in academic dermatology programs.
From 2007 through 2008, an anonymous, voluntary survey, approved by the Emory institutional review board, was mailed to faculty members of 1 entire academic dermatology department per state in the United States and also to the chairpersons and/or program directors of the remaining programs. The first program listed for each state on the FRIEDA Online database of accredited graduate medical education programs was designated to have all faculty members approached.
The survey queried demographics and career development topics such as the presence of and interaction with mentors, career track, sources of funding, finding a clinical/research niche, and faculty development resources.
Data analyses were performed using SAS software, version 9.2 (SAS Institute Inc). Continuous variables were compared using the t test, and categorical variables using the χ2 test. Multivariate logistic regression was performed to identify variables independently associated with the presence of a mentor. Free text answers were categorized with results reported as frequencies. A P value less than .05 was considered statistically significant.
Of the 484 surveys mailed, 179 (37%) were returned, reflecting 37 states plus the District of Columbia and 77 programs. Overall, 81 of 179 respondents (45%) reported having a current mentor, of which 70% (n = 57) had more than 1, and 74% (n = 60) favored having at least 2.
Demographic data (Table) were compared between those with and without a current mentor. Respondents with a mentor tended to be younger, female, and married; they had more debt and spent fewer years in academia. Junior faculty members (in academia ≤10 years) compared with senior faculty members (in academia >10 years) were more likely to have educational debt of $25 000 or more (40% [n = 34] vs 2% [n = 2]) (P < .001). In addition, junior compared with senior faculty members were more likely to have a total household debt of $100 000 or more (80% [n = 67] vs 51% [n = 46]) (P < .001).
A greater percentage of those with mentors reported receiving federal grants, but not other sources of funding, and were aware of faculty development opportunities at their institution. Those respondents with a mentor and fewer than 10 years in academia (n = 86) were more likely to be on a tenure track and have some type of grant, although there was no difference in research involvement. There was no statistically significant difference in the mean years spent in academia for each of the grant funding sources: federal, pharmaceutical, institutional, or foundation grants (data not shown).
Our regression model demonstrated that younger age (OR, 0.92; P < .001), being married (OR, 0.21; P = .03), and having federal funding (OR, 0.33; P < .01) were independently associated with having a mentor.
Desirable traits in mentors identified by 140 subjects in free-handed responses were “being supportive/advocate for the mentee” (32%), “being available” (26%),“experienced” (20%), and “honest” (17%). Common topics discussed during mentor meetings included promotions (30%), salary (25%), and number of clinics for which the mentee is responsible (27%). Only 10% generated or received a written log of mentor meetings.
Our data suggest that efforts to establish more defined mentoring programs in academic dermatology should include not only residents and junior faculty but mid-level faculty members as well. The overwhelming promotion by 74% of our respondents favoring multiple mentors may reflect variable quality of mentoring, and methods to encourage an effective partnership need to be explored. In addition, a minority of respondents report discussing salary, educational and household debt, promotions, or clinical responsibility—issues important when considering an academic career.1,5 Chairpersons may encourage greater documented discussions about these key issues in the mentoring relationship.
Potential limitations of our study include the cross-sectional nature, modest response rate (37%), and selection bias. The generalizability is limited owing to the lack of random selection of respondents, over-representation of chairpersons and program directors, and recall and response bias owing to the survey design. While it appears from our analyses that there is no difference in funding sources (clinical revenue vs grants) between junior and senior faculty, future studies should investigate this issue directly because it may affect the mentoring discussion. In addition, we did not capture whether respondents had other postdoctoral degrees, which may influence whether one would have a more successful mentoring relationship.
Effective mentors should be supportive, available, and experienced. Willingness to discuss salary, debt, level of autonomy, and promotions may facilitate understanding of key issues for those physicians who might lose interest in a career in academic dermatology. Future studies in mentoring should focus not only on residents but on mid-level faculty members as well.
Correspondence: Dr Chen, Department of Dermatology, Emory University, 1365 Clifton Road NE, Emory Clinic, Building A, Suite 1100, Atlanta, GA 30322 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Accepted for Publication: August 17, 2012.
Author Contributions: Dr Chen had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. Study concept and design: Veledar and Chen. Acquisition of data: McKee and DeLong. Analysis and interpretation of data: Sperduto, McKee, DeLong, and Veledar. Drafting of the manuscript: Sperduto, McKee, and DeLong. Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Sperduto, McKee, DeLong, Veledar, and Chen. Statistical analysis: McKee, DeLong, and Veledar. Administrative, technical, and material support: Sperduto. Study supervision: Chen.
Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.
Additional Contributions: We are indebted to Bridget Bradley, RN, and Zakiya Rice, MD, for their assistance in and critical review of this work.