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Context and setting Mentorship is a critical aspect of career development that is often overlooked as a result of increasing clinical, administrative and research demands on academic medicine faculty staff. Prior research on mentorship has explored the effectiveness of traditional longitudinal dyadic models. Alternative ways to efficiently provide career advice are sorely needed.

Why the idea was necessary Although academic medical meetings often offer mentoring opportunities, few attendees participate. Most attendees, however, hope to gain valuable advice from networking with others. We explored an innovative approach known as ‘panel advising’ as an alternative to the dyadic model and hypothesised that panel advising would be a feasible and acceptable method of addressing topics and themes previously associated with effective dyadic mentor–mentee relationships.

What was done Panel advising was offered at two annual meetings of the Southern Society of General Internal Medicine (SSGIM; 2006, 2007). The SSGIM is the premier academic society for general internal medicine. Registrants at the SSGIM meetings interested in panel advising participated in 30-minute sessions which included one advisee and three or four advisors. Advisors were recruited based on varying expertise and interests from multiple academic medical centres. Sessions were tape-recorded and then evaluated by a single reviewer, who identified themes and categorised them as ‘content’, ‘process’ or ‘growth over time’ based on a previously published study of traditional year-long dyadic mentoring sessions. Emerging themes not described in the traditional model were also noted. Additionally, advisees and advisors completed questionnaires using Likert scales and free text questions that assessed the feasibility and acceptability of the panel advising sessions (response rate > 90%).

Evaluation of results and impact Fifteen panel sessions with 15 advisees and 23 advisors were conducted. Compared with traditional themes, panel advising included 15 of 21 ‘content’, 18 of 18 ‘process’ and none of six ‘growth over time’ themes. Several unique themes also emerged in the panel sessions, including: developing networking and negotiation skills; creating a teaching portfolio, and incorporating advice from multiple advisors.

Sessions were highly valued by advisors and advisees. The median scores for the post-session questions (‘enjoyed the mentoring session’, ‘panel session was feasible’, ‘panel session was useful’, ‘panel and mentee were a good match’ and ‘overall rating of session’) were 1.2–1.5 for advisors and 1.2–1.3 for advisees (1 = excellent, 5 = poor). All (100%) advisees would recommend the session to others and 69% of advisees preferred panel advising to traditional one-to-one mentoring.

Both advisors and advisees considered panel sessions to be a feasible and acceptable method of career counselling. Panel advising shares several themes with traditional mentoring and also explores new themes and allows advisees to interact with advisors from diverse backgrounds. Panel advising as a single event precludes the opportunity to address growth over time, but future studies could explore the longitudinal effect of panel advising. As dyadic mentoring becomes less realistic and desirable as a result of time restraints and competing professional obligations, panel advising offers an efficient, feasible and well-received alternative model.