Disclosures: Frey and King report no relevant financial disclosures.
August 28, 2020
2 min read

Mentoring can promote, elevate female oncologists

Disclosures: Frey and King report no relevant financial disclosures.
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Women in oncology may face additional challenges and obstacles in their careers, but when they support and champion one another, they can be unstoppable.

Allison King, MD, MPH, PhD, professor of pediatrics in the division of pediatric hematology and oncology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, told Healio what she looks for in a mentor.

Women in Oncology - King Quote

“I find it helpful to have someone who understands that there are barriers out there, and that we have to figure out how to work not just harder, but smarter to get around these barriers,” she said. “I also like someone who can help me navigate the politics of my local environment and find opportunities.”

Mentorship is one way for oncologists to shepherd one another through career challenges, new opportunities and ongoing training. Whether a female oncologist is mentored by another woman in the field or a male clinician, the role calls for communication, encouragement and collaboration.

“Both parties clearly communicate their expectations and goals,” King said. “They have regular meetings to review progress on projects and training. The mentor would use their resources and opportunities to promote the mentee’s growth.”

Mutual support, respect

Mentors and mentees should have strong respect for one another, King said. In particular, the mentor should want to elevate the mentee toward their highest potential.

“The mentor would want the mentee to succeed, and the mentor’s work would serve as a springboard to gain skills and experience in the research or clinical field,” King said. “The mentor would also not try to impede the mentee’s success, meaning the mentor is usually happy that the mentee grows and ‘shines’ on their own.”

Similarly, a mentee needs to be willing to commit to the time and work required for an agreed-upon project, according to King.

“A mentor should not be working harder on a mentee’s project than the mentee is,” King said. “Open communication, organized interactions and good time management usually facilitate good mentor-mentee relationships, as well.”

Different mentors for different needs

According to Melissa K. Frey, MD, gynecologic oncologist and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian, mentorship should not be limited to professional or academic projects.

Women in Oncology - Frey Quote

“I think in mentor-mentee relationships we often focus on the work side and how to get grants, make presentations, rise in academia or earn higher pay,” Frey told Healio. “However, I think some of that mentoring, especially for women, should be about integrating all parts of life. How can you juggle trying to rise in administration and do academic work with having children or other responsibilities at home? I think we haven’t fully utilized mentors in that way.”

King said in some cases, female oncologists may prefer to have different mentors who understand each of their unique challenges.

“Women do not necessarily need a female mentor,” she said. “However, they may want to have mentors for different aspects of their careers, whether it is a research method or work/life balance – mentors who have a better understanding of a specific need.”

For more information:

Melissa K. Frey, MD, can be reached at: gen4001@med.cornell.edu.

Allison King, MD, MPH, PhD, can be reached at: king_a@wustl.edu.