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Dr. Anne Suskind on the importance of mentorship in urology

Anne M. Suskind, MD

Anne M. Suskind, MD

At the Society of Women in Urology Annual Clinical Mentoring Conference, Anne M. Suskind, MD, MS, FACS, FPMRS, will be giving a presentation called, “Mentorship as a Team Sport,” where she delves into the benefits of mentorship in the field of urology. In this interview, she shares her insights and experiences as a mentee and mentor and discusses why it is a rewarding experience for both parties. Suskind is an associate professor of urology and obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences, and a chief of neurourology and female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery at the University of California, San Francisco.

Please summarize the main points of this presentation.

First [I talked about] defining mentorship as a reciprocal relationship. So, sometimes we think of the mentor-mentee relationship as the mentee [being] an open vessel and receiving this information from the mentor. [But in this talk, I] really [redefine] it as an active relationship where both parties benefit. It's [more of a] dynamic relationship than a 1-way flow of information.

[Secondly,] no matter what point you are at in your career, you can benefit from mentorship. We tend to think about more senior individuals mentoring younger individuals—in particular, trainees—but regardless of where you are in your career, even if you've been in practice for 10, 20, [or] 30 years, you [may still] want to learn something new [and] there are [plenty] opportunities to be a mentee. And so, I really invite people wherever they [may be] on their career path to consider what they want to learn [and] what they want to expand on in their career, and to seek out mentorship in that area. The reverse of that is true as well. You can be a mentor, even if you are very junior in your career. You've had experiences, and there are people who can benefit from your knowledge. That goes both ways. Wherever you are in your career, you have valuable information to give as a mentor, or receive and benefit from as a mentee as well. So, open your mind to being both [a mentee and mentor].

The third point is what to look for in a mentor. [For example,] you're a mentee [and] you decide you want to assemble your team. You don't need to find everything in 1 person—that's often not possible. [It's all about] finding a team of mentors to help you with whatever it is that you're looking for.

Then we get into the nitty gritty of how to build a team. Not only what to look for in individuals, but how to put together your team [and] how to approach people if you want them to be your mentor. That's always scary for people. But [it's important to realize] that, like I said at the beginning, mentors love being mentors, and they get a lot out of it as well. They've been mentored in the past, so it's okay to ask [and] it's okay to explore these relationships. [I give] some tips and tricks on how to do that.

Finally, [I talk] a little bit on hygiene of the mentee-mentor relationship [and] how to be a good mentee. It really is incumbent on the mentee to drive the relationship and [so I] go into some details on how to do that. [Also, I talk about] how to maintain the relationship. Not all relationships are meant to be, and [I discuss] how to close the loop in a responsible and respectful way if things aren't going to work out, or if your needs change, etc.

What is the most valuable aspect about the mentee-mentor relationship from the mentor side?

Being a mentor is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. It is a lot of fun. It is a privilege to be able to mentor people and to interact with them in that way, [and] to have a part in helping them to define and experience their own success. For me, it has become much more gratifying [to watch] my mentees be successful and to be excited about what they're doing than [to celebrate] my [own] successes. I see their successes as the prime experience of being a mentor, and really one of the most fulfilling parts of my job.

What advice would you give to residents or medical students who are trying to find a mentor?

It would be the same for anybody—a student, a resident, a fellow, a senior physician. I think there are many points of advice, but I'll give you one: look for someone who has what you want and came from where you are. Again, this may not be one person. You may find different attributes in different people, but really, [ask yourself] whose career or life you admire, and [who] you want to emulate. That's where I would start. Find those individuals and then start from there, because they know what it takes to get from point A to point B, and if they started where you started, then they know even more. Again, this doesn't all have to be in one person, but those are some of the attributes that I would recommend people start with. So, find someone who has what you want and started [in a position similar to yours.]

What advice would you give to clinicians or more experienced medical professionals on being the best mentor that they can be?

One is [to] start with being grateful. It is such an amazing opportunity to be able to mentor someone. If someone [comes up] to you and [asks] for mentorship, be grateful to them that they're giving you that opportunity to be a mentor. Without them, you can't be a mentor, and clearly, they admire you in a way that is very flattering. So, be grateful for that opportunity, and for the opportunity to have a role in their development of what they want to manifest in their career. Number 2, I think it's not about creating a mini me or a mini you. It's really about helping the individual—and maybe they don't know when they first come to you—explore and understand what they want that is uniquely them. It's not going to look exactly like your career, but really get into their shoes and try to understand what works for them, [understand] what they want, and support them in whatever way that you can. I see it as a supportive role. [You should] support them, empower them, [help them] explore what they want, [and] help [them] find their own direction [so that they can] become successful in what they choose to do.

Please discuss a memorable experience as either a mentee or a mentor.

There was one experience that stands out to me as a mentee. When I was very early on in the first year of my career, I was going down this one path of research that I thought I wanted to do, but I was hitting all these roadblocks. I wasn't finding the right mentors [and] I wasn't finding the right resources. It wasn't coming together, and I was struggling and really trying to make it work. Two of my mentors saw that and did an intervention. They took me out to dinner, and they sat me down and said, "We think you should change directions." I was so relieved in that moment because I felt like changing directions or not doing what I set out to do would be a failure. And so, I couldn't even admit to myself that that was the wrong path. In that moment, I needed someone to tell me it was okay. It was okay to change directions [or] go in a completely different direction. It was that inflection point in my early career that made the rest of my career. And so, I'm very grateful that they saw that and that they gave me that advice. They seemed to know what I needed, and they gave me the right advice at the right time. That's invaluable.

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