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CAREER TRACKS: Pay It Forward: Senior and Fledgling Neurologists Connect in AAN Mentor Program

Shaw, Gina

doi: 10.1097/01.NT.0000432297.64278.dd

John Ferro, MD, has had something of a peripatetic neurology career during his nearly 25 years of practice. Originally in a group practice that combined neurosurgery and neurology, he then joined a neurology-focused group with six practitioners. After that, he spent a brief period at a community hospital affiliated with an academic medical center, practiced as a neurohospitalist, opened his own private practice, and is now back to a single-specialty group, Rockland Neurological Associates, in West Nyack, NY.

So when he heard about “AAN Mentor Connect,” the AAN's new mentoring program linking experienced neurologists with medical students, residents, and early-career practitioners, Dr. Ferro figured he'd have a lot to offer.

“I've made a full circle trying to see what would fit my personality the best, and, in so doing, I've gathered a lot of experience in different types of practice situations that allows me to share the pluses and minuses of different options,” he said.

As of early May, Dr. Ferro was one of 54 mentors involved with 53 mentees in Mentor Connect, an 18-month pilot project launched last April. The program was developed in response to results of a survey by the Neurology Career Center showing that 74 percent would find a mentoring program valuable. The Academy is aiming for 200 participants by October 2013.

“Initially, we had many more mentees than mentors, so we reached out to potential mentors to build up those numbers — and then we had too many mentors!” said Amy Schoch, manager of the AAN's Career Center. “Where we are at now is a good balance. Hopefully numbers will continue to build on both sides.”

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Jitesh Kar, MD, who will start his fourth year of neurology residency as chief resident at the University of Texas Medical Center at Houston in July, found Dr. Ferro's insights into private practice invaluable.

“I've learned a lot about academic medicine and big research, but I want to go into private practice, and I really appreciated how honest he was and how much time he spent answering my questions,” he said. “I wanted to know a lot of practical things like how many patients a private practice sees, how many procedures you have to do to be successful, and so on. I was also confused between whether to pursue a solo or multispecialty group practice, and his thoughts helped me settle on a multispecialty group. He really helped me consider what I wanted to do rather than force his opinion on me, and he was always so prompt and responsive to all my questions.”

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As a young neurology resident at Harvard-Longwood, Janice Wiesman, MD, now an adjunct assistant professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, was already married with a baby on the way. “There were a lot of female residents, but not very many female attendings,” she recalled. “Back then, if you wanted to work part time — which is what I wanted — it was very difficult. I didn't have anybody who, for lack of a better term, ‘took ownership’ of me and told me about the road ahead. So I signed up for Mentor Connect because I wanted to do that for someone else. You need someone who has an idea of how you might feel in the future, even if you can't imagine it now.”

Dr. Wiesman was powerfully impressed by her first mentee, a first-year medical student at Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine, Ciara Kazakis-Young. “Her school didn't have a Student Interest Group in Neurology, so she started one on her own,” said Dr. Wiesman. Hearing that Dr. Kazakis-Young hadn't mentioned that achievement in her own interview with Neurology Today, Dr. Wiesman observed that it's exactly this lack of “blowing your own horn” that has often been a problem for women in neurology.

“Women don't tell people how wonderful they are,” she said. “We're afraid to brag. I had breakfast with Ciara and her husband at the AAN meeting, and I gave her this example. I've been working at BU for 17 years and every year we're reviewed, and we fill out a standard form listing all the things we do. Some years you get your standard raise, other years the chair tells you that no one's getting a raise this year.”

One year, Dr. Wiesman changed her strategy after reading a career article in the New York Times. “I made my own little box at the bottom of the form, ‘What's New.’ I separated out all the things I had done that year that I hadn't done the year before. The chair said, ‘Wow, I didn't know you were doing so many new things,’ and gave me an increased raise!”

Dr. Kazakis-Young said insights like this, and guidance about managing a part-time career, are invaluable for her. “I was able to talk to her very candidly about what it's like to have a baby in residency, to be pregnant as an intern, and so on,” she said. “And she advised me about handling debt, and has e-mailed me about a new program where you can sign on with a hospital in a certain area and, with a three to five year contract, get a percentage back toward your student loans.”

Both mentor and mentee hope to continue the relationship as Dr. Kazakis-Young moves through medical school and into residency. “I really value this communication,” said Dr. Kazakis-Young. “She said, ‘I wish I'd had someone like this when I was going through medical school to save me from some of the mistakes I made!’”

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Dr. Wiesman hopes to move from a mentor to a sponsor role as Dr. Kazakis-Young enters practice. “That's how the big boys do it,” she said. “I'd like to network for her and help her make connections. Men kind of do that naturally, but my generation of women may not always have felt powerful or important enough to do that, and I think that's a mistake. That should be the next step for people with their mentoring partnerships.”

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For Yasir Jassam, MD, a PGY-2 resident at Tufts Medical Center, connecting with renowned multiple sclerosis (MS) expert Fred Lublin, MD, of the Mount Sinai Medical Center, was a “great stepping stone” into the relatively new field of neuro-immunology and multiple sclerosis — Dr. Jassam's chosen subspecialty.

“My goal is to train in neuro-immunology and ultimately establish a comprehensive service in that area, rather than one that only specializes in certain diseases,” he said. “Right now, there are only a few places in the United States that are providing training in neuro-immunology as an entity, a subdivision like stroke and neuromuscular disease. I have the thoughts and ideas but you need guidance from someone seasoned in the field about what is difficult to apply in reality, and what might be possible.”

Dr. Lublin offered Dr. Jassam guidance in choosing a fellowship, as well as insights as to potentially fruitful research projects. “He said that MS biomarkers are now on the rise, and that's something to explore,” Dr. Jassam said. “He also guided me to opportunities I hadn't heard of, such as an educational course in multiple sclerosis with the opportunity to meet eminent experts in the field. He was so approachable, even though he is so busy. I was very impressed that he wasn't reluctant to answer my calls and always was very keen to listen to my questions.”

Dr. Lublin says that he has talked to two or three other mentees, as well as Dr. Jassam. “The field is exploding and expanding, so there is a lot of need for subspecialists trained in this area, and there will be many opportunities for them at academic institutions and in private practice. To see all these bright young people with an interest in the field, it's very encouraging.”

The AAN has also launched a mentor program to support the development of leaders in the field; see page 37 for a story about the Emerging Leaders Forum.

To sign up for AAN Mentor Connect as a mentor or mentee, go to the Career Center's website at

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© 2013 American Academy of Neurology