Maximizing Mentorship: Strategies for Academic Success

I believe teaching is a calling, and I began to hear the whispers when I was a student in PA school. The voices grew louder when I began practicing clinically and started precepting students. And I could no longer ignore the shouts when an opportunity was presented less than two years ago for a PA faculty appointment to work in PA education.

We all know how challenging that first year can be transitioning from the clinical arena into the classroom. For me, one thing has proven to be personally beneficial in decreasing the learning curve that comes with the shift into academia — mentors. We have all had mentors in our lives — people we have looked up to and respected who taught or guided us as we progressed through our personal and professional lives. It may have been a parent, other relative, high school teacher, coach, professor, clinician, or a colleague.

Since mentors had often played a significant role in my life, I was proactive in pursuing senior faculty at my current program and at other PA programs nationally who could foster my growth in education. To my surprise, I found extremely successful individuals who were willing to do whatever they could to cultivate the skills I would need for academic success in PA education. I think this was due, in part, to asking people who shared similar values and goals.

Teaching, scholarship, and service are typically regarded as the “3 pillars of academia” and frequently used at institutions as areas for determining promotion and tenure. Here are my strategies for successfully using mentorship in each of these categories.

1. Teaching.  Most of us enter education because we want to teach. I was no different as I value the privilege of instructing and mentoring our next generation of PAs. As I discovered that certain colleagues had “the gift” for effectively educating students, I reached out to them. How were they able to alleviate anxiety about teaching less familiar medical topics and clinical skills? How did they handle course management and assessment?

I also attended an educational workshop at the national level, where a faculty member from another institution engaged and inspired me as a teacher, enthusiastically sharing their successes and challenges in the classroom. As a new faculty member, I quickly realized that students can present challenges, and having experienced guidance can be a lifesaver in navigating potentially difficult situations.

2. Scholarship.  The most daunting aspect of education for me — and probably for most new as well as some established faculty — is scholarship. Lack of time, limited experience, an endless choice of topics, and uncertainty about what qualifies as scholarship can be significant barriers. Mentors from other institutions provided me with extremely valuable advice: reflect on where my interest or expertise lie, either clinically or in PA education; then promote this knowledge with others in the form of writing or presenting to colleagues at a regional, state, or national venue.

With the guidance of a mentor, I recently wrote a clinical review article that was accepted for publication and also     submitted abstracts for an upcoming national professional conference. When I had a grant proposal that was not accepted, a mentor taught me how to turn it into an opportunity to rework it for another venue. It’s also valuable to have mentors at different types of institutions and programs who can best show you unique ways of approaching similar ideas.

3. Service.  One of the best things that your PA program can do for you as a new faculty member is send you to either the PAEA Education Forum or a PandoTM workshop. It will give you the chance to network and meet faculty from other institutions and to realize what a great support system you have at the national level in PA education. Mentors have been invaluable with information, contacts, and resources as I have sought leadership opportunities to provide service. They have encouraged me to apply to PAEA committees of interest, to serve as a moderator at conferences, to become part of workgroups, and to see what opportunities might be available to help foster local community initiatives that are part of a larger national campaign.

Finally, while not part of the “3 pillars,” I see my future in PA education as an administrator. Mentors from two different institutions have provided leadership and direction as I have volunteered as an active participant in our program’s self-study process and also as the chair of a committee. I have found that by seeking the guidance of experienced mentors and continuing to display a willingness to learn new skills has given me the necessary confidence to succeed in my new role.

At the end of the day, I choose to work in PA education with the hope that my students will be even more successful clinicians, educators, advocates, and stewards of the profession. We all have something to contribute as faculty in PA education — and should be willing to share and help each other. This is why many of us became clinicians in the first place! I remain indebted to my current mentors, both at my institution and other PA programs, who have “taken me under their wing” to ensure I am reaching my potential as an educator.

Mentorship has been the single greatest resource in my advancement thus far as a professor. So remember — picking up the phone, drafting an email, or saying hello at a conference may open up doors and impact your career in ways you never imagined.