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The Importance of Peer Mentorship for Underrepresented Trainees and Junior Faculty

September 2, 2022

While increasing diversity of the medical workforce is and has been a high priority for many years, most institutions have struggled to make this a reality.

While focusing on recruitment is important, it is equally – and perhaps more – important to also work on retention of those who are underrepresented in medicine (URiM). Retention means that we need to provide support – financial, material, emotional, and other support. Where does this support come from?

This week, Pediatrics is early releasing a thoughtful Feature by Dr. Yarden Fraiman and colleagues at Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Ohio State University, entitled, “Plugging the Leaky Pipeline: The Role of Peer Mentorship for Increasing Diversity” (10.1542/peds.2021-055925).

Nationally, fewer than 10% of medical school faculty are URiM, and well over half of them are at the Assistant Professor level. The authors note that the proportion of pediatric trainees who are  URiM has remained stagnant for the past 15 years. This means that it is generally challenging for trainees who are URiM to find senior mentors who share the same background and may be able to relate to and provide mentorship in areas of concern that are unique to these trainees.

The authors suggest that we look more to peer mentors as a way to provide support to trainees who are URiM. And that’s a great idea!

However, given the demographics, these peer mentors who are URiM are few and far between. That’s a heavy load for them to carry alone. They cannot shoulder this load of peer mentorship without material support – in the form of salary support, protected time, and/or other compensation or recognition from their institutions. Otherwise, this can be detrimental to the mentor’s career, as they have less time to work on their own scholarly projects that could help them attain promotion and/or tenure.

Dr. Fraiman and colleagues provide some tangible suggestions for us to consider. I would encourage you to read this article, as it highlights challenges, many of which those who are not URiM are likely unaware. If you are in a leadership position, I think that it’s especially important for you to read this feature article. However, even if you are not in a leadership position, it provides many suggestions that you can offer at faculty meetings or in discussions with colleagues.

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