Like the hero in Homer’s Odyssey—an epic tale of courage and perseverance—Einstein medical students face daunting challenges in their quest for a career in medicine. And, like Odysseus, they find help along the way from wise and supportive mentors. One of several mentoring resources available to students, in addition to the formal program offered by the office of student affairs, is a unique peer-to-peer program sponsored by Einstein’s chapter of the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA).
AMWA is a professional organization dedicated to advancing women in medicine and improving women’s health. Mentoring is central to its mission. Einstein’s AMWA chapter is one of the most active in the country.
Members of the Einstein AMWA chapter leadership (from left): Sarah Marx, Rachel Cohen, Yuliana Noah, Rachel Zolno, Hilary Samuelson and Katie Seibert“AMWA has had a consistent presence at Einstein for many years,” said faculty advisor Dr. Nadine Katz, professor of clinical obstetrics & gynecology and women’s health and a member of the Class of 1987. She describes the chapter’s current leaders as bright, creative women who want to make a difference. “They do a fantastic job of sponsoring programs that raise awareness of important issues that supplement those covered in the curriculum—programs that educate and broaden the understanding of the whole student body,” she said.
The peer-mentoring program was launched two years ago and is still evolving. “We started out with a big sister−little sister model,” said Patience Gallagher, Class of 2017, a past president of the Einstein AMWA chapter. “But we’ve found that ‘longitudinal mentoring networks’ composed of second-, third- and fourth-years with first-year mentees are better for continuity. The expanded model eliminates the problem of third-years ‘disappearing’ when clerkships lead to a lack of time.”
While most mentor-mentee interactions take place online, the chapter holds monthly meetings to encourage face-to-face contact. Typical issues range from how to prepare for the Step 1 licensing exam to how to negotiate your first job contract. The program is open to all Einstein students, both as mentors and mentees. All genders are welcome and AMWA membership isn’t required.
Students during a peer mentoring sessionMs. Gallagher and board member Donya Eizadkah have worked with Dr. Mary Kelly, director of the office of academic support and counseling, who acts as a consultant to the group, to create modules for mentor training sessions led by Dr. Kelly.
“I remind trainees about things they’d learned in their Intro to Clinical Medicine course,” said Dr. Kelly. “Things like listening without judgment and being empathetic while realizing that your experience doesn’t necessarily inform the other person’s.”
She advised the mentors-in-training to “look for students who may be in trouble,” and to become familiar with the supportive resources available at Einstein, such as WellMed and the office of academic support and counseling.
“Medical education is a very rewarding, very intense experience,” said Ms. Gallagher. “As students find their way, it’s inevitable that questions about the process will come up. Our mentoring program provides a space for students to get their questions answered, to be supported by their peers and to be reminded that we’re in this together.”
Charting a career path that will accommodate a well-rounded lifestyle is a hot topic among AMWA peer mentors and mentees. Another is how to choose a specialty. “This generation of students has been raised to believe they can succeed at anything they try,” observed Dr. Katz. “AMWA’s mentoring program helps tease out the areas they have a passion for.”
And peer mentoring offers a practical benefit: Students may be concerned about offending a faculty member or alumni member with a particular question or personal revelation. “They may need that person in the future, for a recommendation or an introduction,” said Dr. Katz. “Having a peer mentor is safe.”
Ms. Gallagher—along with Katherine “Katie” Seibert, Class of 2019, who recently became the AMWA chapter’s new president, and Hilary Samuelson, Class of 2018, immediate past president, and their fellow board members—have sought to grow Einstein’s AMWA chapter, which currently has more than 100 members. They’ve expanded the group’s education and outreach efforts and have opened up membership to men.
Nadine Katz, M.D., serves as faculty advisor to AMWA; Mary Kelly, Ph.D., is director of academic support and counseling, whose office trains the peer mentorsDr. Katz approves. “Men don’t face the same barriers as women,” she noted. “They need to understand the challenges of their female colleagues so they can help address them.”
“All Einstein AMWA events are open to all students,” said Ms. Seibert.
The chapter’s initiatives over the past two year years have included a wine-and-cheese mixer; a cookies-and-hot-chocolate “how to survive anatomy” event; a “lunch and learn” co-hosted with the Career Advisory Panel, featuring a presentation by Dr. Victor Schuster, senior vice-dean, on how to conduct effective career negotiations; and the chapter’s annual student-physician mentoring banquet, where students interacted with female physicians in a speed-dating format to discuss the personal aspects of having a medical career. Educational programs covered a wide range of topics, from LGBT issues to domestic violence and raising awareness and donations during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
The current AMWA board has made particular strides in raising awareness of domestic sex trafficking. As part of the Introduction to Clinical Medicine course the board members hosted a workshop led by Dr. Holly Atkinson, co-chair of AMWA national’s Physicians against Human Trafficking (AMWA Path) initiative. They also invited Dr. Kanani Titchen, an adolescent-medicine fellow at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore and an expert on child sex trafficking who is active in AMWA Path, to deliver a keynote address on the topic at the 2015 student-physician banquet.
“By promoting equality in medicine for all, we’re also working to advance women in medicine,” explained Ms. Gallagher. “And as we work to promote women’s health, we want all future physicians to benefit from being more aware of the important issues.”
For example, Ms. Samuelson added, “sex trafficking is a problem we tend to think doesn’t exist in this country yet it’s happening right here in the Bronx, affecting primarily girls ages 9 to 15. Physicians and medical students are well- positioned to intervene, and it’s important for them to have sex trafficking on their radar when interviewing patients.”
To that end, Ms. Samuelson and her fellow board members conducted student surveys at recent AMWA events to determine the most effective way to introduce sex trafficking awareness into the curriculum at Einstein.
Dr. Katz has seen improvements for women in medicine in recent years. For example, female academics are now routinely considered for department chairmanships. “But we still have a long way to go,” she cautioned. “The need for AMWA will be here for years to come.”
For those interested in taking part in chapter activities, AMWA will host the following events in March and April 2016:
St. Patrick's Day Lunch - AMWA Mentoring Program — Thursday, March 17, at noon, in the Max and Sadie Lounge
Lunch and Learn: “The Weight of Osteoporosis in Geriatric Care” — Monday, March 21, at 11:45 a.m., featuring guest speaker Dr. Rubina Malik; cosponsored with the Geriatrics Interest Group
Mentor Training/Safe Zone Training with Dr. Mary Kelly (for students interested in volunteering as mentors in the AMWA Mentoring Program in Fall 2016) — Monday, April 18, at 5 p.m.
For further information about Einstein’s AMWA chapter, its peer mentoring program and the upcoming events, please contact Katie Seibert, AMWA chapter president, at email@example.com.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 8, 2016