Issue: February 2018
February 09, 2018
5 min read

Mentoring crucial for growth within cardiology specialty

Cardiology Today asked Next Gen Innovators about the importance of mentorship in medicine.

Issue: February 2018
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Developing positive relationships with mentors can be a crucial part of launching a successful career in clinical and research cardiology.

However, identifying a mentor and getting the most out of that relationship is not without its own challenges. Such challenges might include finding a mentor — or mentee — that is right for you and changing needs throughout the different phases of a career. Other obstacles include potential mentors being able to make time in their busy schedules to help develop aspiring and early career cardiologists as well as the underrepresentation of women in cardiology, which may be a barrier keeping women interested in internal medicine from choosing cardiology as their specialty.

Cardiology Today asked four Next Gen Innovators to discuss mentorship in the field of cardiology.

“Finding key mentors and latching on to them can help propel your career in academic medicine,” said Seth S. Martin, MD, MHS, FACC, FAHA, assistant professor of medicine and co-director of the Advanced Lipid Disorders Center at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease. “I am indebted to my mentors. It has been the combination of things I’ve learned from each of them and the opportunities they’ve created for me that have propelled me into academic medicine. In addition, there’s an inner drive that you get when you see examples of the value of the synergy between patient care, research and teaching/mentorship.”

From left to right: Puja K. Mehta, MD, Cardiology Today Chief Medical Editor Carl J. Pepine, MD, MACC, Janet Wei, MD, Seth S. Martin, MD, MHS, and Ki Park, MD, convened to discuss challenges for early career cardiologists.

Finding the ‘right’ mentors

For those who are allured by the appeal of academic cardiology, finding the right mentors is incredibly important to forge a career, according to Puja K. Mehta, MD, FACC, FAHA, assistant professor in the division of cardiology at Emory University and director of women’s translational cardiovascular research at Emory Women’s Heart Center.

“The opportunity to be around thought leaders in cardiology, do research, and teach students was the biggest draw for me to stay in academics,” she said. “Every step of the way, I’ve been very fortunate to have had outstanding mentors who guided me. That’s the key: At every stage, starting from medical school to residency to fellowship, you have to identify those people who are going to direct and support you so that you can successfully get to the next stage in your career.”

However, the shortage of academic cardiologists, particularly women, might partly be explained by time demands that prevent potential mentors from devoting enough time to younger people in the field.

“Strong mentors are themselves successful individuals who are in high demand and there are only so many hours in the day,” Martin said.

Another obstacle is that development of research-based relationships may not be happening as much as it needs to in the fellowship stage, said Ki Park, MD, interventional cardiologist and clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Florida, Gainesville.

“To apply for a cardiology fellowship, many have already done significant research. Then when it comes to their actual fellowship time, it seems to get sort of dropped,” she said. “I understand the clinical obligations and the training demands. But I think if the environment is set up with more integrated lectures on research methodology — that’s something we’re working on in our program — and relating young faculty to fellows, then we can bridge the gaps and keep continuity in terms of research.”


To attract more people to academic cardiology, it might make sense to incentivize potential mentors at the mid-career and junior faculty stage, Mehta said.

Absent the ability to incentivize mentoring, Martin also encouraged institutions to create a culture of mentoring.

“Some groups have a culture of mentorship. Part of the lifeblood is help bring young people along,” he said. “I definitely see that within our Ciccarone group at Johns Hopkins. There is identification that it’s a win-win for everybody, in terms of productivity for the group and recognition that mentoring young people, at all levels of training, is key to launching careers and furthering the field.”

Challenges for women

Difficulty persists in recruiting women to academic cardiology, as women comprise less than 20% of cardiologists. Thus, it can be difficult for female medical students, residents and fellows to find a female cardiology mentor.

Mehta encouraged the prospect of more female cardiologists overall. “If we hire cardiologists who are women in academic institutions, the medical students, residents and others will see that there are female cardiologists out there. Otherwise, we will be stuck at that 20% level,” she said.

Park noted that poor communication on both sides can lead to women who are interested in cardiology falling through the cracks.

“It’s important to have mentors and to actively engage internal medicine residents and even the medical students to show them that there are women cardiologists, particularly in interventional cardiology, where women account for less than 5% of the workforce,” she said. “I often see that women express their interest [in cardiology] early on in their residency, but then come to find out that they never spoke to me or any other of my female colleagues and subsequently decided that it was too hard from a work-life balance perspective. They didn’t come and seek us out. That’s a two-way street, but it’s a major barrier. We can also do a better job of highlighting different career paths within cardiology. That’s why it surprises me that of the women who are cardiologists, there aren’t more in academics, because I think academic life is a little bit more amenable in terms of work-life balance than clinical medicine.”

Janet Wei, MD, FACC, cardiologist at the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, said there are plenty of role models who show that maintaining work-life balance in academic cardiology can be done.

“The mentors I had who were women in academic cardiology showed me they could balance work and life successfully, and I was really encouraged to know this balance is possible. These women were focused, dedicated and efficient at work. They knew how to prioritize what was important and took time to take care of themselves outsiisde their work. Creating a culture that is conducive to women’s academic success is so key, because then the younger generation can be inspired to pursue academic cardiology,” she said. “We can’t let them think that because it’s such a rigorous field, work-life balance is impossible.” – by Erik Swain

Disclosures: Martin, Mehta, Park and Wei report no relevant financial disclosures.