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June 28, 2021

Creating a culture of growth through professional development

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Since its establishment, the UAB School of Medicine has centered on unique collaboration and unity. Even prior to the school’s designation in 1966, founders and leaders of the Medical College of Alabama progressively encouraged partnerships and interdisciplinary teamwork in research, clinical care, and education.

These foundational values have traversed to many different avenues, particularly professional development. Now, opportunities abound for garnering a culture of mentorship, training, and encouragement among faculty, staff, trainees, and students.

At our enterprise, professional development means cultivating an environment that values growth and encourages employees to thrive. Professional development involves networking, engaging, and serving when opportunities present themselves. And, it means finding intersecting opportunities for other key areas, like the Office for Diversity and Inclusion’s longstanding student and trainee mentoring initiatives.

As Talmadge E. King, M.D., once said in a 'Leadership in Academic Medicine' series presentation, personal and professional growth can be fostered through mentorship, coaching, and/or sponsorship. Seeking out a person on your team to fill one of those roles can be vital for growth.

Additionally, it’s more difficult to achieve and grow in isolation. We need to rely on one another for accountability, encouragement, and validation when we set short-term and long-term goals. As we come closer to ending the pandemic, it’s more evident now than ever that we need guidance and support—from groups and individuals. Throughout 2020 and early 2021, we learned that in a time of crisis it’s imperative to our well-being to have leaders and colleagues at our side, cheering us on when we are in the trenches and when we are prospering.

The duties of mentors, sponsors, and coaches are each similar in nature, but offer different avenues for growth. For example, sponsors aim to propel individuals toward opportunities that would allow them to achieve goals and milestones. Coaches encourage current work and future plans. Mentors give critical and positive feedback, while recommending projects and sharing their own journey with mentees. All three share the goal of helping someone navigate professional challenges or roadblocks. The roles of mentors, coaches, and sponsors are instrumental professionally, but can also be valuable personally.

In medical school and during my training years, Levi Watkins, Jr., M.D., was both a mentor and sponsor to me. Like many others, Watkins was an important role model and illustrated to me how to be both a surgeon and an advocate for minority communities, as well as how to stretch my work beyond hospital walls. As Duke Cameron, M.D., professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, once said: “There are just so many people—nonmedical people—who saw Levi Watkins as somebody they were so incredibly proud of. And he was a spiritual leader for them too.”

John Cameron, M.D., Alfred Blalock Distinguished Service Professor of Surgery at Johns Hopkins, mentored me on my special interests of pancreatic cancer surgery. Cameron was helpful to me in more ways than one—he was also once a resident and fellow at Johns Hopkins University and was able to help me navigate my training years there.

Now, I still rely on the wisdom of my colleague mentors. As Forbes writes, research shows that organizational support fosters commitment, and mentorship fosters deeper work satisfaction. This philosophy has always been true for me personally.

In the same way, I have had the opportunity to mentor many surgeons, trainees, and medical school students during my career. Serving in this role is not only a privilege, but has often helped my professional growth. Mentoring and coaching has helped me look through a new, polished lens at my own milestones and growth goals. As we inch closer to returning to our normal routines, my hope is that we can continue refining our institution to one that deeply relies on interpersonal networking.

There are several opportunities for professional development at the School of Medicine. Be it special topic interests in research or education, similar pursuits in patient care, mapping an administrative career journey, or connecting professionally based on personal demographics, there are many connecting points that call for guidance. My recommendation is to surround yourself with others who have the spirit, energy, and wisdom that you seek in growth.

Later this year, the Dean’s Office will launch a formal mentoring program for our faculty through the Office of Faculty Affairs and Faculty Development.

If you are a trainee, faculty member, or student, the Professional Development Office offers comprehensive resources. For staff, the EACC offers life coaching services and the Organization of Learning and Development offers trainings, courses, and events for networking.

While programs and initiatives exist that help promote professional growth, I encourage you to reach out on your own to those who have qualities, work, or experience that you desire.