Although we are surrounded by talent within General Internal Medicine, how do we effectively and equitably promote it? Junior faculty often struggles to promote themselves, and senior faculty may recognize talent but not know how to advance it fairly. In this column, we provide advice for both situations.
Much has been written about the importance of mentorship; however, sponsorship is increasingly recognized as a separate but vital component of faculty success.1 Both the mentor/mentee and sponsor/sponsee relationships represent a mutually beneficial pairing, typically of junior and senior individuals, though peer and near-peer models can also be effective. Mentorship is often longitudinal, helping decide where to go and which opportunities to pursue or avoid over time, while sponsorship is more discrete and episodic, such as nominating a colleague for a specific role or opportunity. The differences are summarized well by the phrase: a coach talks to you, a mentor talks with you, and a sponsor talks about you.
Estrada, et al., previously detailed challenges and strategies for promoting talent.2 Here, we build from those and offer several actions specific to career level.
Junior faculty should look for opportunities and rise to the task. Identify your interests and tell your boss, an action that serves as a means of “branding” and helps others think of you for opportunities. If a sponsor nominates you for something, follow through. Don’t let yourself and your sponsor down. If offered an opportunity for which you don’t have the interest or bandwidth, use that opportunity to sponsor a peer. Finally, promote yourself! If you are a good candidate for a role or award, don’t be afraid to ask someone to nominate you. Help senior leaders and peers recognize your talent and promote it.
Senior leaders should consider sponsoring diversely. For every position available, remain intentional to encourage a variety of talent—one woman and one man, one junior and one senior, as well as diverse applicants. An additional step would be creating a Request for Applications (RFA) for open positions to ensure sponsorship is not favoritism. Don’t let an award nomination cross your desk without nominating someone, or, if too burdensome, create a committee to do the work as a group (sponsorship!). Consider promotion of others a vital part of your job and a testament of your own success. When your sponsee gets the position, check in with them. Although the sponsorship act was episodic, see how they are doing and whether it was a good match. Use this as feedback for future sponsorship.
Whether early or late in your career, you must continue to refine and pursue your career sweet spot, or “Ikigai,” a Japanese concept meaning a reason for being. To know which steps to take next, we all must know where we are going. Through effective mentorship and sponsorship, this sweet spot can be achieved within General Internal Medicine.
Ayyala MS, Skarupski K, Bodurtha JN,. Mentorship is not enough: Exploring sponsorship and its role in career advancement in academic medicine. Acad Med. 2019 Jan;94(1):94-100. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000002398. PMID: 30095456.
Estrada C, Conroy MB. High potentials: Challenges and strategies to promote talent in your organization. ACLGIM Leadership Forum. 2018; 10(2):3.
ACLGIM, Career Development, Leadership, Administration, & Career Planning, Medical Education, Research, Social Justice
Dr. Steinhilber (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an assistant professor of medicine, University of Alabama School of Medicine, Birmingham, Alabama. Dr. Bhatnagar (email@example.com) is an associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, Louisiana. Dr. Williams (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an associate professor of medicine, University of Alabama School of Medicine, Birmingham, Alabama.
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