Mentor the change you want to see in the world

The Diversity Mentorship Partnership with Northwest Permanente celebrates the success of its first cohort 

For second-year M.D. student Evan Mitchell, pursuing a career as a physician seemed unachievable; he grew up in an Oregon community with few, if any, African American doctors. Instead, Mitchell, an African American, first-generation college student, pursued a career as an EMT and volunteer firefighter for more than a decade. Working closely with physicians in these roles, Mitchell realized both his passion for medicine, and that with hard work, becoming a doctor was possible. He returned to school and in the fall of 2018, he enrolled in the OHSU M.D. program.

Medical school is just one of many steps in the career of a physician and the potential barriers that first-generation students may face. As an M.D. student, Mitchell realized that a mentor could help him navigate some of the cultural and professional encounters he was experiencing. But knowing where to find a mentor was in itself an obstacle. The Diversity Mentorship program helps OHSU M.D. students from diverse backgrounds be paired with a mentor who may have a similar background or interests.

Partnering to support diverse future physicians

Launched in April, Diversity Mentorship is a partnership between OHSU and Northwest Permanente that originated as a conversation between Leslie Garcia, M.P.A., assistant chief diversity officer for OHSU, and Ruth Change, M.D., M.P.H., chief people officer for Northwest Permanente, who wanted to help diverse students succeed professionally and contribute to diversity in medicine – an essential component to improving care for all patients and addressing health disparities. According to Garcia, mentoring is an important component in medical education and can help build a diverse workforce, because relationships with established professionals help expand students’ access to professional networks, aid career development and strengthen confidence. Mentoring also increases a student’s interest in specific specialties.

For physicians like Dr. Christopher Olivares, the director of diversity and inclusion for Northwest Permanente, an emergency medicine physician and program co-lead, mentoring M.D. students is a way to help create the change he wants to see in medicine. We need physicians that “represent who we are as a community. Greater diversity among physicians will help us provide culturally competent patient care for an increasingly diverse population,” said Dr. Olivares at the closing town hall event for the first cohort on Nov. 5.

Dr. Olivares is also a first-generation college student and OHSU M.D. alumnus, and for the past six months, he served as a mentor to Mitchell. They share an interest in emergency medicine and created a connection through the mentorship that both describe as deeply rewarding.

Reflecting on the value of the program for physician mentors, Dr. Chang said, “For me personally, this mentoring program has been a privilege and a gift, and I know my colleagues at Northwest Permanente would say the same. Mentorship really is a two-way exchange, and we have all benefited from this opportunity. It is our hope and goal that we continue to improve the mentoring program, building on the great foundation that we’ve laid together.”

Program builds community, cultural connections

The Diversity Mentorship Program’s first cohort at a closing Town Hall on Nov. 5.

At a closing Town Hall dinner Nov. 5, the first cohort of students and mentors gathered to thank the mentors and also to reflect and share experiences from the program. George Mejicano, M.D., senior associate dean for education, OHSU School of Medicine, spoke on the value of culturally connected mentoring to create communities of support for diverse students who, despite qualifying academically, may feel like impostors if they come from backgrounds that are different from many of their peers.

Touching on his own experience, Dr. Mejicano acknowledged, “I’ve gone through impostor syndrome many times, but a mentorship offers a window and role model to help mentees affirm their identity and competencies and remove their self doubts and insecurities to believe in themselves.”

He captured a theme that many echoed throughout the evening: “Physicians need both competence and confidence, which are critical to patient care.”

Mentoring brings unexpected stories, unforgettable memories

In the second part of the evening mentors and students shared their experiences meeting and engaging in mutual learning. Their stories of connection and growth were as diverse as the participants.

Many of the mentor-mentee pairs met informally for meals or coffee and more than half of the mentees spent time learning with their mentors in a clinical setting, while others connect for wellness activities like pedicures, workouts or outdoor activities. According to Garcia, the point of leaving the mentorship fluid is to allow the pairs to design their own experience, which helps build trust and supports meaningful connections while navigating busy schedules.

Mentor Rahul Kashukurthi, M.D. (left), and mentee Rick Matthews

Few of the activities were as unique as the evening Rick Matthews, and his mentor Northwest Permanente physician Rahul Kashukurthi, M.D, who have a shared interest in surgery, spent together. Matthews, a second-year medical student explained, “As a surgeon suturing is a critical skill to master and it takes a lot of practice. Dr. Kashukurthi invited me to his home and brought some pigs hearts, and we worked on suturing together.” They also strategized about Matthews’s next steps in his journey: residency and specialty training.

For mentees, the world of career pathways is their oyster

While some of the mentee pairs shared an initial specialty interest with their mentors, for others it was an opportunity to explore career paths they might not have considered. For Aseel Alsamarraie, a second-year medical student who was matched with mentor Chid Ani, M.D., assistant professor of anesthesiology and perioperative medicine, OHSU School of Medicine, shadowing her mentor in clinic introduced her to the field of anesthesiology. Alsamarraie had not considered a specialty practice before, but she says anesthesiology now interests her.

Dr. Ani was attracted to the program as an opportunity to support others from diverse backgrounds and encourage them to consider specialty practice, which he believes can be professionally and personally rewarding. He noted that pursuing a specialty like anesthesiology, with additional years of training and cost, takes perseverance. He hopes by mentoring diverse learners like Alsamarraie he can provide the support for navigating career decision points like preparing for residency or selecting a specialty.

Alsamarraie and Dr. Ani also met for coffee several times over the six-month internship to talk about Alsamarraie’s career goals. Alsamarraie says she feels grateful for Dr. Ani’s willingness to share his personal experience navigating medical education and the transition to practice as a person of color.

Mentee Aseel Alsamarraie (left) and mentor Chid Ani, M.D.

The real goal: life-long mentorship

While the Town Hall marked the conclusion of the six-month mentorship program, many of the mentees and mentors, including Alsamarraie and Dr. Ani, say they plan to stay connected. Building ongoing connections and support, whether by expanding students’ access to professional networks, growing their confidence or exposing them to career options, is the real goal of the program.

In his closing, Dr. Mejicano emphasized that developing a community of support especially for diverse learners is critical because “the need for mentoring does not go away, it is needed at all points during a physician’s career.” He also encouraged mentees to remember the support they receive and invest in others by mentoring in the future.

Seeking OHSU mentors to begin January 2020

With the success of the pilot program, Garcia and Chang will continue to grow the partnership between OHSU and Northwest Permanente with a new cohort of mentors and mentees in January 2020.

The M.D. Diversity Mentorship program is currently recruiting OHSU physician mentors in all areas and specialties. If you are an OHSU physician who would like to mentor a medical student from a diverse or under-represented background, contact Garcia to learn more.

Pictured above: M.D. student Evan Michell with his mentor Christopher Olivares, M.D., at the Nov. 5 Town Hall.