Walk the halls of Boston Children’s Hospital and you’ll find trailblazers in the field of medicine. You’ll cross paths with leaders who are known around the world for their groundbreaking research and other work to advance knowledge and improve the care of children. Their expertise is vast and disparate — basic scientists in laboratories, clinicians at patients’ bedsides, educators at the whiteboard — but ask any of them how they got to where they are, and they’ll likely name multiple mentors who helped them to build their careers.
Mentorship is critical to medical progress and to building the next generation of leaders in health care and science. It is how the information learned by students and trainees in large lecture halls and dense textbooks merges with personalized guidance, and becomes tailored to their unique career goals. And it’s a two-way street. The ability to connect with a trainee, to identify their goals and aspirations and to help them acquire the necessary skills, resources and experience to attain those goals is one of the most rewarding aspects of being an academic clinician. Mentees challenge us, inspire us, and, quite simply, make us better clinicians, researchers, and teachers.
My mentees come from many phases of their training, including undergrad and graduate students in both medical and allied health career trajectories, medical students, residents and fellows. They have connected to me through networking events and by word of mouth from their peers and other clinical mentors. They seek mentorship in research, clinical, and professional growth and I tailor the mentorship I provide them to their level of training and their current goals and needs.
Mentoring trainees from marginalized communities
While mentorship is invaluable for every trainee, it can be particularly meaningful and vital for those who come from historically marginalized communities and those who seek to work in fields on the leading edge of medicine. In my work focused on improving transgender and intersex reproductive health, I work with many mentees who identify as either trans or intersex and who are embarking on careers focused on directly improving the quality of care received by their communities.
Mentees from marginalized communities often face barriers to finding mentors who see them and understand them — not just their professional goals, but their life experience. For LGBTQIA+ mentees, this includes difficulty in finding mentors who understand the fact that they have likely experienced discrimination in both their health care experiences and in their academic lives — for example, the need to suppress aspects of their identities in order to succeed. LGBTQIA+ trainees in medicine face numerous challenges in navigating how their identity impacts their career and their interprofessional relationships.
‘My ultimate vision for success’
As a LGBTQIA+ medical student, researcher, and now attending physician, I am deeply aware of how mentorship has supported me in my career. My mentors have provided me the right balance of risk-taking opportunities and safety-net support that has allowed me to build a career as a clinician and investigator. They did not give me rose-tinted glasses but rather endowed me with the necessary skills and tools to be successful in this field. They provided the space I needed to be an openly queer physician-scientist and to determine when and how I wanted my identity to be a part of my professional career. They let me struggle, mess up, learn, and grow.
My goal is to build a clinical, research and educational program for trans and intersex reproductive health that is a pipeline for mentee and trainee success. My ultimate vision for success is to work myself out of a job — to enable a generation of trans- and intersex-identified individuals to take leadership in caring for trans and intersex communities and training the next generation of clinicians. I strive to empower my mentees to study and write about the things that matter to them and their peers. Every piece of research and advocacy that is done by our program is driven by the communities we serve. By giving them leadership in their projects today, they will have the tools and skills to be the leaders of medicine tomorrow.
In so many ways, our trainees and mentees are a critical focus of our program at Boston Children’s. Investment in them is the best path we have to improving the care of our patients for generations to come.
Dr. Frances Grimstad (she/her) is a pediatric and adolescent gynecologist at Boston Children’s Hospital. She is the founder of the hospital’s Transgender Reproductive Health Service.
Learn more about the Transgender Reproductive Health Service.