The Mentorship Connection

By Molly Strzelecki - June 16, 2021

CV-July_Mentorship

Navigating your career can be a tricky endeavor sometimes. When you’re faced with decisions that could impact the trajectory, it can be exciting, thought-provoking, and sometimes terrifying. Everyone, at some point, could use a little guidance to help them figure out, “Where do I go from here?”

Opportunities abound for pathologists and medical laboratory scientists to carve out a career for themselves that is engaging, dynamic, and full of growth. But figuring out how to get on that career path, or even which stops to make along the way, doesn’t have to be a solo endeavor. Entering into a mentoring relationship to help work through these times of uncertainty in a career can have a huge impact on outcomes. And as demands on the laboratory become more and more demanding, finding a mentor, or becoming a mentor for someone else, is invaluable to discovering the next steps or opportunities for their career path. What’s more, with technology making it easier to connect with people than ever, mentoring relationships can take place just about anywhere, in person or over the computer.

Aaron Odegard, MS, MLS(ASCP)CMSMCM, participates in ASCP’s ongoing Mentorship Program, and also signed up to offer a mentorship session at ASCP 2020 Virtual. He connected with multiple people, including a medical student from the Philippines seeking information about educational opportunities, as well as another person who, Mr. Odegard notes, was nervous about approaching him to discuss careers. “He was working on his master’s degree, and was asking me questions about what I was doing with my master’s degree, what he could do with his.” They’ve kept up their correspondence over the past year, and Mr. Odegard recently received a photo of his mentee holding his master’s diploma.

“It’s a great opportunity for people to have a one-on-one connection that you might not get to have all the time,” he says.

Melissa Hogan, MD, had participated in networking events prior to signing up for a session at ASCP 2020 Virtual, but hadn’t been a part of any official mentorship program. When she volunteered mentoring sessions, she was surprised that people signed up to meet with her. She was “only” a fellow, and thought people would prefer talking with others who had more experience. But, it turns out, she had quite a lot to offer.

“Those sessions were so meaningful to me,” Dr. Hogan notes, “and it was interesting to hear the questions people had, and the guidance they were looking for.” As a first-generation college graduate, Dr. Hogan recalls that there was so much she didn’t know going into medical school and residency because she simply didn’t have personal or family connections as guidance. Having more formal interactions, she realizes, are important for students—all students—who are interested, because they may not be getting the exposure to pathology or know someone who has gone through the residency program.

“Making those connections through opportunities, like what we had at the national meeting, and now the online mentorship program, makes a huge difference,” Dr. Hogan says, adding that she also participates in ASCP’s mentoring program on the other side of the relationship, as a mentee. “It’s so important to realize that as a resident and fellow you can be so impactful and so helpful to people who are applying to residency.”

Challenges and surprises of mentorship

As a leader in the laboratory who has spent much of that time in management positions, Stephanie Whitehead, MBA, MPH, MLS(ASCP), sought out becoming a mentor to help broaden her view as well as foster her love of teaching. In the lab, she notes, there is often a habit of promoting people who excel at technical skills. That same energy, however, isn’t always put into increasing people’s soft skills. “I wanted to come on board to engage in those skills, because that wasn’t necessarily what I learned—I had to learn the hard way,” she says. “There is fulfillment to me that comes from helping people get insight into what their challenges are and trying to use your own experiences to help them overcome those challenges.”

One of the surprises Dr. Hogan encountered through mentorship is the amount of outreach from international graduates. “I know we have a huge international scope with ASCP, but you don’t realize how many international students are interested in mentorship since you've already gone through the process in the U.S.," she says. "For me, there was a realization that under-resourced countries without pathology residencies at their institutions also really need that guidance."

Starting on the path to mentorship

Finding a mentor or being a mentor to someone else isn’t always easy, but it is always worth it. Putting yourself out there to be a mentor or actively seeking out mentorship gives people the opportunity to reflect on where they are, how they’ve gotten there, and where they want to go. It’s a chance to stretch your emotional intelligence and cultivate networks, Mrs. Whitehead notes, two things that have been so important to the medical laboratory profession over the past year.

“When you’re mentoring someone, they’re going to talk to you about situations they’re going through,” Mrs. Whitehead notes. “And your task is to listen, to be empathetic, and to be as objective as possible on how to navigate and overcome that situation.” The mentor-mentee relationship is not always about you, she adds, and being as available and honest as possible ultimately provides understanding. “They came to you because they honestly want to either do what you do or understand more about what you do,” she says.

Dr. Hogan notes that being prepared to meet with your mentor or mentee can help dissipate some of the initial awkwardness you might be feeling. For those reaching out to a mentor, have a goal in mind of what you’d like to talk to your mentor about, which can help direct your meeting, no matter how much time you have together. From the mentor perspective, being able to personalize your experience to each mentee, and having that toolkit for them will help both parties get the most out of the experience. “Being able to say, ‘here are your strengths,’ or ‘include this on your application’ helps make it a personalize experience for them, but also helps maximize their time with you, and gives them what they need from you as well,” she says.

There is no right or wrong way to start on the path to mentorship, whether as a mentor or mentee. Find an opportunity, and go for it.

“Just take a risk,” says Mr. Odegard. “We all have different life experiences and we all work in different environments, so we all have things to draw from that we can actually teach other people. You don’t have to have a fancy title. Your experiences are able to help someone else.”

Interested in finding a mentor, or being a mentor to someone else? Mentoring sessions will be offered at ASCP 2021 in Boston. Visit www.ascp.org/annualmeeting for more information.

Molly Strzelecki

ASCP Director of Communications