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‘Community of mentoring’ changing culture at UMass Chan

New student programs pair women and people underrepresented in science and medicine with faculty volunteers

By Susan E.W. Spencer

UMass Chan Medical School Communications

October 01, 2021

A group of students is launching a mentorship program for women at UMass Chan Medical School, building on a mentoring program begun last year for learners traditionally underrepresented in medicine. Organizers say they see similar needs in these groups for guidance and personal connections between students and experienced medical science professionals.

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Mark Johnson, MD, PhD

“I think this is really an opportunity for us to start changing the culture here at UMass Chan Medical School,” said Mark Johnson, MD, PhD, the Maroun Semaan Chair, chair and professor of neurological surgery and senior vice provost for mentorship, leadership and transformation at UMass Chan. “We’ve always had mentoring programs, but most of those have been based on assigned mentors, assignments that occur very early on during the student’s education here. This one differs in that students are able to choose their mentors and it’s all volunteer.”

Johnson said, “The response has really been tremendous.”

The American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) chapter at UMass Chan is spearheading the women’s initiative, collaborating with the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), the provost's office, the Office of Faculty Affairs and Johnson.

The goal is to match interested students in UMass Chan’s three graduate schools and the graduate medical education program one-on-one with faculty and administrators who want to advise, sponsor and coach the next generation of women or underrepresented doctors, scientists and nurse leaders.

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Niharika Kareddy

Medical student Niharika Kareddy, who is a leader of the AMWA chapter, said she saw personal and systemic needs for a mentorship program for women.

“Personally, I am the first doctor in my family. So, mentors have been critical in forging my journey and helping me find all the opportunities available to me as an immigrant and providing me with adequate support when things got hard along the way,” said Kareddy. “And I think in general, women face a dilemma balancing their lives and careers, and sometimes having the right mentor is really helpful in a unique way because they can really empathize with your struggle.”

The women’s mentorship program, which is still recruiting interested mentors and mentees, is intended to expand the success of the SNMA mentorship program launched at UMass Chan last spring, according to Kareddy.

Medical student Christian Pineda serves on the executive board of the UMass Chan chapter of SNMA, a national organization aimed at diversifying the face of medicine in the United States by supporting students traditionally underrepresented in medicine.

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Christian Pineda

Pineda said, “Through the SNMA program I was able to get a mentor, and mentorship has been very important to me throughout my life. I’m a first-generation minority college and medical student. I haven’t had the same experiences as women, but I think I can empathize with them and understand the need for mentorship.”

Pineda was paired with a trauma surgeon, who opened his eyes to career opportunities in surgery and emergency medicine.

“Having somebody who can relate to you and who may have gone through the same things, they can just tell you their experiences and help you out with whatever you need,” he said.

About 50 mentors are volunteering in the women’s mentorship program so far, and more than 120 students have indicated they are interested in being mentored, according to Kareddy. Mentors don’t have to be women, she added.

The SNMA mentorship program has about 90 students and 50 faculty volunteers, bringing total involvement to more than 300 students and faculty in just a few months.

“The program is really focused on one-on-one mentoring, but a larger goal is to create a community of mentoring and mentorship,” Johnson continued. “There’s a concept called mentoring ladder, where people are both mentors and mentees. Here at UMass Chan, we have a great opportunity for students, residents and faculty to take advantage of all that UMass has to offer, in terms of its people.”

Women interested in receiving mentorship, or those interested in serving as a mentor to women, can send an email to niharika.kareddy@umassmed.edu with the subject line, “Mentorship Program Team interest,” and a short explanation of what they would like to get from this experience and why female mentorship is important to them. The Student National Medical Association can be reached through its web site.