Medicine's Mentoring Program

Program Guides Department of Medicine Junior Faculty Along Paths to Success

Last year, Dr. Beverly Johnson, assistant professor of medicine, signed up for the medicine department’s faculty mentoring program. She was eager to learn from a senior staff member in her field.

Marla Keller, M.D. and Elizabeth Kitsis, M.D., co-directors of the medicine department’s mentoring program
Marla Keller, M.D. and Elizabeth Kitsis, M.D., co-directors of the medicine department’s mentoring program
“I thought I’d be matched with a rheumatologist since that’s my specialty,” she said. “But my mentor specialized in critical and palliative care, which proved to be a great match.”

Unlike typical mentor/mentee relationships established between supervisors and more junior staff, medicine’s mentoring program matches younger faculty to senior staff with similar interests or personal situations. The goal is to bring together faculty members from different disciplines to create mentoring relationships across divisions within the department while also giving younger faculty the support and resources they need to achieve their career goals in the clinical, educational and/or research realm.

Making Meaningful Matches

“People have varying needs, whether it’s career goals or research advice,” said program co-director Dr. Marla Keller, professor of medicine and of obstetrics & gynecology and women’s health and vice chair of research in the department of medicine. She runs the program with Dr. Elizabeth Kitsis, associate professor of medicine and of epidemiology & population health. “We try to match people so it will benefit both mentees and mentors.”

A committee–including Drs. Rosemarie Conigliaro, Chinazo Cunningham, Allan Wolkoff, Vic Schuster and Penny Grossman–assisted with designing and implementing the program. And participants’ feedback helps to further shape it.

“During our first two years, 20 junior faculty members participated in the program, and their feedback has been enthusiastic,” added Dr. Kitsis, whose roles also include vice chair for faculty affairs & professionalism in the department of medicine.  “Replies to a recent survey demonstrate that faculty have benefited from the program in a variety of ways, ranging from scholarly productivity to career planning to networking support.”

A Game Plan for Success

After being matched, the paired faculty members complete a mentoring agreement, outlining their plans for working together.  Then each mentee creates an Individual Development Plan with support from his or her mentor, in which short and long-term goals are defined. Every mentee works on a scholarly project with guidance from their mentors—anything from creating a course curriculum to conducting research. Each month, guest speakers lead interactive seminars and share insights with mentees and mentors on career development topics such as seeking a promotion, obtaining grant funding, or getting published.  Each mentee also presents a Work-in-Progress to the group, and receives feedback about ways to advance their project.

Beverly Johnson, M.D. was paired with Sharon Leung, M.D. in the program’s last session
Beverly Johnson, M.D. was paired with Sharon Leung, M.D. in the program’s last session
“The unique aspects of this program broaden and enrich the personal exchanges,” said Dr. Sharon Leung, an associate professor in the department who was matched with Dr. Johnson because they both are interested in quality improvement research.

In fact, Dr. Leung is an expert on quality improvement and has a “black belt”—the highest level of expertise—in LEAN Six Sigma, a management philosophy that aims to improve business processes. Throughout their year together, she supported Dr. Johnson as she worked on her research project while also advising her on how to approach future research and tackle career goals.

“Matching me with Sharon was great,” said Dr. Johnson. “My biggest problem is that I like to do everything— teach, do research and see patients. But at the end of the day, you can’t do everything. Sharon helped me to focus better, so I can work on promotion and think more about my career goals.”

Giving Back by Paying It Forward

For Dr. Leung, being a mentor is about continuing a tradition. “When I was junior faculty, I had a great mentor in Dr. Brian Currie.” (Dr. Currie served as vice president of medical research at Einstein and assistant dean for clinical research at Montefiore until his retirement two years ago.)

“I grew up here at Montefiore/Einstein, and I did my internship and fellowship at Montefiore. I also earned my master’s in clinical research at Einstein. I’m homegrown, having been here for 12 years. So now it’s time for me to give back,” she said. “My goal is to help create a community.”

Dr. Liise-anne Pirofski leads a Medicine Mentoring seminar
Dr. Liise-anne Pirofski leads a Medicine Mentoring seminar
Nowhere is that sense of community more evident than at the monthly sessions where mentors, mentees and other faculty members and administrators come together for their monthly discussions.  Younger faculty members ask questions and get advice and senior faculty are able to share their experiences and see their mentees gain skills and confidence.

“It’s especially helpful to listen to problems that senior faculty had when they were younger and how they overcame obstacles,” noted Dr. Johnson.

She added, “In one of the sessions, we talked about how getting from point A to point B in your career is not always a straight line. They had this cartoon with arrows going everywhere and that really spoke to me. It also was great hearing other people’s experiences about how they balance family and career, and learning how different people have dealt with challenges.”

Offering a Haven for Professional Growth

“We try to foster a friendly environment where everyone can take a couple of hours to step away from their day-to-day hectic activities to reflect on larger career goals,” said Dr. Kitsis. “For junior faculty, it can be difficult to find the time to focus on personal career growth. Our jobs can be busy and demanding, but for those who are able to make time for this program we have a network of people and resources that can really help you succeed.”

“Mentoring is essential, today even more so, because the practice of medicine and the performance of research are each much more complex than they were 20 or 30 years ago,” added Dr. Yaron Tomer, professor and chair of medicine, who attends many of the sessions and participates in open discussions with junior faculty members. “These are our rising stars. They are the future of our institution. We need to show them the path to succeed.”

Faculty members who are interested in joining the medicine mentoring program as a mentee or mentor for this year (September 2017 through June 2018) should e-mail Dr. Kitsis at

Posted on: Wednesday, September 6, 2017