Changing mentorship in oncology
Christine Simmons, Artsci’98, Meds’01, has always looked to guidance from mentors throughout her career development from a medical student at Queen’s to a medical oncologist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. One of her first mentors was Kathleen Pritchard, Arts’69, Meds’71. After noting the benefits of a good relationship with a trusted advisor, Christine wanted to facilitate the development of such relationships across the country.
In order to accomplish this, she spearheaded the creation of Women in Cancer (WinC), Canada’s first online initiative to establish and maintain mentoring relationships amongst oncologists across the country. “I realized that there is a wealth of support and resources that we could share with each other based on our individual experiences,” she says. “We just needed a way of connecting with one another and establishing our support networks.”
The challenges that women physicians face in career development are very different from those faced by male doctors. Oncology is a specialty that has seen a significant gender shift over the last decade, with residents in subspecialty training programs across the country now being predominantly women.
WinC was conceived as a way for these dedicated women to share their knowledge, mentor each other, and provide leadership training that would capture the gender shift in oncology.
“The WinC initiative has certainly brought us all together,” says Kathleen. “It’s clearly important that senior and junior people collaborate. Perhaps women, having some common issues and values, find this more useful or useful in different ways, although i think mentoring between women and men can also be extremely effective.”
WinC offers its members literature resources, event information, a discussion forum, and video-conferencing technology to improve leadership tools and the mentoring relationship.
WinC also allows members to search across the country to find mentors who are their “perfect match”. Kathleen and Christine are good examples. Kathleen is able to offer Christine insight into treating patients, doing academic research, and managing a career and family.
“There have been many difficult decisions to make over the course of my career so far, and Kathy has been an incredible support to me throughout these times,” says Christine.
The mentor-mentee relationship, as she calls it, does not just benefit the mentee, it allows the mentor to celebrate her career and share her success and knowledge. Kathleen says, “I’ve been delighted to be part of a mentor/mentee relationship with Christine. I think as mentors we often gain more in enthusiasm, new approaches and knowledge from our mentee than vice versa.”
WinC invites all medical, radiation, and surgical oncologists, and trainees, to join by visiting www.womenincancer.org. Membership is free and WinC is a fully registered not-for-profit organization.