The value of mentors

September 1, 2007

Published studies have found that dermatology residents express a desire for expanded mentorship. An increasing number of dermatology residency training programs in North America have implemented mentorship programs, designed to advise, encourage, and promote resident mentees. A survey of program directors in both the U.S. and Canada found that program directors supported the concept of mentorship programs. The majority of respondents said it was important for residents to have access to mentors during their residency. Moreover, the majority indicated that the development of more structured mentorship opportunities within the training curriculum could influence the proportion of dermatology residents who pursue academic careers.

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Most dermatology residency program directors say mentorship programs would benefit residents, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the Canadian Dermatology Association (CDA).

Jeff Donovan, M.D., Ph.D., a fourth-year dermatology resident at the University of Toronto in Toronto, says he first reviewed the literature to determine the extent to which the topic of mentorship for residents had been studied.

In a Canadian study published in 2005, dermatology residents across the country were surveyed to assess how happy they were with their training. Results found that residents expressed a desire for greater mentorship from their dermatology faculty.

Efforts to meet the need

Dr. Donovan points to several dermatology organizations in North America that have established structured mentorship programs for dermatology residents, including the Women's Dermatologic Society, the American Contact Dermatitis Society, the Society for Investigative Dermatology, the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, the American Society of Dermatopathology and the Medical Dermatology Society.

"These groups believe that by encouraging and supporting residents to develop mentoring relationships that they can influence the career choices of residents," Dr. Donovan tells Dermatology Times.

He adds that a growing number of residency training programs in North America have become interested in the issue of resident mentorship, with many developing mentorship programs.

Defining the program

Dr. Donovan describes the mentorship program as a pairing of a resident with a dermatologist staff mentor.

He notes that these programs are designed to provide an environment in which a dermatologist mentor can help advise, encourage and promote one or more residents during the early stages of training. He cites several potential benefits of mentorship, including assistance for residents in defining their career goals and in increasing their research productivity, their satisfaction with training and their retention in academics.

"All areas of dermatology are affected by significant shortages, including rural dermatology and community dermatology, but the shortages are particularly felt at academic centers," Dr. Donovan says. "That has been the case for quite some time."

Indeed, the CDA conducted a work force survey in 2003 that found that Canada, like her neighbor to the south, was facing a crisis in available manpower to treat skin diseases. The association estimated that by 2010, half of the country's dermatologists would retire or stop clinical practice. Recognizing such a shortage of clinical instructors, the CDA is urging all qualified dermatologists to take on teaching.

Dr. Donovan notes the existence of mentorship programs might help alleviate the shortage of dermatologists in certain areas, such as the academic setting.

In his study, Dr. Donovan set out to determine the views of program directors on several issues pertaining to mentorship and the prevalence of mentorship programs with dermatology residencies. The Canadian Medical Association funded the study to evaluate the role of mentorship in early professional development.

A total of 120 Canadian and United States dermatology residency program directors were contacted. The components of the survey included assessment of program directors' attitudes toward mentorship, the presence or absence of a mentorship program, and the perceived benefits of a mentorship program.

Breaking down the survey

In total, 56 (nine female and 47 male) - or 47 percent - of the program directors contacted responded to the survey.

The survey found the majority of academic centers/program directors who responded had a residency mentorship program in place, with the majority of the programs having been in existence for less than five years.

A total of 90 percent of respondents said that mentorship had played a somewhat or very important role in their own career development, and 82 percent of respondents said it was important for residents to have access to mentors during their residency. The majority (42, or 87 percent) indicated that the development of more structured mentorship opportunities within the training curriculum could influence the percentage of dermatology residents who pursue careers in academics.

"Program directors saw mentorship programs as an important resource for residents," Dr. Donovan notes.

The success of future mentorship programs would involve looking at mentorship needs from the point of view of the residents, to develop models to promote and reward mentorship and to develop rating scales to evaluate how effective the mentorship programs are, Dr. Donovan says.