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Great pairings: Trainees, early career physicians tap AAP member expertise via mentorship program :

April 8, 2016
Dr. DiGiovineDr. DiGiovineWhen pediatric neurologist Marissa DiGiovine, M.D., FAAP, was preparing to start a second fellowship several years ago, a few questions were in the back of her mind. So she turned to the AAP mentorship program for a dose of advice.

“I was moving from one hospital in New York, going on to a fellowship elsewhere and was looking to talk to people,” Dr. DiGiovine recalled. “It was nice to be able to get an outside perspective.”

The online-based mentorship program promotes leadership and career development, connecting trainees and early career physicians with experienced FAAPs in all settings.

Since Dr. DiGiovine first became involved, the program has grown from a pilot project to a national initiative. She now is the point person on the mentorship program’s workgroup for the Section on Early Career Physicians (SOECP) as well as a mentor and mentee. She said she was keen to help the program get started because the Academy has the best resources and represents the largest group of pediatricians in the country.

“We wanted to figure out how we could make everybody more accessible,” she said. “It just seemed like a good network of people.”

How it works

Those interested in being a mentor or mentee complete an online profile form and indicate the amount of time they can commit to the program, which is free to members.

Mentors and mentees are matched electronically, and mentees receive a list of possible mentors with percentages reflecting how closely they match. After choosing a mentor, the mentee sends a request-to-connect message.

The program issues task, reminder and survey prompts. Individuals can connect digitally, by phone or in person, if possible. Some get together at AAP meetings. While the typical mentoring period is one year, the pairs can request changes.

About 408 mentees and 315 mentors have signed up for the program. Mentors can have up to two mentees.

For the most part, the mentoring pairs tailor the relationship to fit their needs.

How to improve your C.V., make a fellowship application more competitive or choose a subspecialty are common questions. Some mentees want feedback on working in a particular subspecialty, including issues of work-life balance. Still others inquire about global health opportunities.

The site also enables participants to engage in forum discussions.

“Flash” mentoring is a popular option, allowing quick questions to be posed to mentors without a formal relationship. Questions have included: “What should I do in my fourth year of medical school if I’m interested in pediatric infectious diseases?” Or “What advice do pediatricians who are parents have for serving nutritious meals?”

Valued relationships

Dr. BruggemanDr. BruggemanUniversity of Florida pediatric resident Brittany S. Bruggeman, M.D., said flash mentorship worked well for her needs. An interest in pediatric endocrinology led to a conversation with Madhu Misra, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, who chairs the pediatric endocrinology division at MassGeneral Hospital for Children and is professor of pediatrics at affiliated Harvard Medical School.

“I had the opportunity to talk with her on the phone for about an hour, and she answered all of my preliminary questions about endocrinology,” Dr. Bruggeman said. Among the topics: job opportunities, lifestyle, opportunities in clinical work and research, as well as how to be a more competitive fellowship applicant.

A more traditional mentoring relationship involves Sarosh “Shawn” Batlivala, M.D., FAAP, assistant professor of pediatric cardiology at University of Mississippi, and his two mentees. One is a resident with questions about fellowship applications. The other is a medical student whom he helps to learn more about the Academy and what rotations to take.

“It’s just created an ongoing connection where I can help him out as an overall mentor,” said Dr. Batlivala, a former chair of the Section on Medical Students, Residents and Fellowship Trainees. He also assisted in the program’s launch and is District VII representative to the SOECP.

If mentoring pairs can’t meet in person, Dr. Batlivala said, they should at least speak by phone.

“I’m a big believer in that you need to talk to people,” he said. “The conversation will lead you in a million different directions, and you just can’t do that over email.”

Dr. SmithDr. SmithLike Dr. Batlivala, Tyler K. Smith, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, mentors a medical student and a resident. Her student mentee also wants to become more involved in pediatrics, and the resident is deciding on a fellowship subspecialty. To become a more desirable candidate, Dr. Smith suggested the resident boost her leadership credentials, including trying to become chief resident.

Dr. Smith got involved as a mentor to “pay it forward and give back to other people.” A practitioner at a community health center in Baltimore, she is the AAP District III representative to the Committee on Membership and to the SOECP, and serves on the Task Force on Pediatric Practice Change.

In Dr. Batlivala's view, the program is a great way for people to stay in touch year-round.

“It’s sort of like (taking) some of the mentorship experiences people get in leadership positions in the Academy and bringing them to your home, to your backyard, so you can have these connections,” he said.

For more information on the AAP mentorship program, visit or email
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