Professional News
Women Psychiatrists Say Mentors Key to Success
Psychiatric News
Volume 36 Number 12 page 5-29
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Panelists dispense career advice to women psychiatrists. From left are Pedro Ruiz, M.D., Sandra Sexson, M.D., Donna Mancuso, M.D., Cynthia Santos, M.D., and Anu Matorin, M.D.

According to a 1997 study by Anu Matorin, M.D., in 2010 one-third of all American physicians will be women. Yet they are still underrepresented in administrative and leadership positions.

Matorin is an assistant professor at the University of Texas in Houston and cochaired an APA annual meeting workshop titled "Career Advancement for Women Psychiatrists: The Role of Mentoring."

Matorin said at the workshop that without mentoring, she wouldn’t have known what it takes to succeed professionally as a woman psychiatrist. Mentors are useful in helping women develop a professional identity and recognizing their own strengths and weaknesses, she emphasized.

But women aren’t on equal footing when it comes to finding a mentor. "Over the years, men have been given more opportunities in professional careers, and, therefore, more role models are available to encourage male junior faculty to pursue mentorship with them," she said.

Matorin also called attention to the misconception that women junior faculty might not be as productive as men due to the need to balance the demands of parenthood with those of a career, which could, as the misconception goes, interfere with career advancement.

Workshop cochair Sandra Sexson, M.D., agreed that there is a serious lack of mentoring opportunities for women. "Women physicians may receive inadequate mentoring because there are an inadequate number of senior women physicians available to be mentors," she said.

Sexson is chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Emory University School of Medicine.

Sexson also noted that women are often excluded from informal networks. "In a male-dominated department, a lot of big decisions are made on the golf course," said Sexson. "I don’t play golf."

Still, she has managed to hold some key administrative positions. For example, she is chair of the Program Committee of the American Association of Directors of Psychiatric Residency Training and a member of the Residency Review Committee for Psychiatry.

Women can also advance their careers in psychiatry by attending professional-development seminars and can reduce isolation by networking with peers, Sexson pointed out.

A good mentor is someone who "cares about you and goes out of his or her way to see that you get the best possible chance to fulfill your career potential," said Sexson, who added that mentors see great potential "in the raw" and give honest career advice.

To work toward promotion, Sexson suggested that women become familiar with both the written and unwritten promotion policies of their institution—colleagues and superiors may be aware of rules that are not made explicit.

She also advised women to get involved in committee work and commented that it helps to publish as much as possible.

Panelist Donna Mancuso, M.D., said that promotion toward tenure-track positions, in particular, may not be what some women want.

"There is a great deal of pressure to get tenure, although no one really tells you how to get there. And if you stop and think for a moment, it may not be right for you," she said.

Mancuso is the training director at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center psychiatry department and director of its division of law and psychiatry. There is no shortage of leadership positions on her résumé. Mancuso has served as secretary, treasurer, parliamentarian, executive advisor, and chair of the Continuing Education Committee at the Louisiana Psychiatric Medical Association.

Mancuso and panelist Cynthia Santos, M.D., who is the residency training director at the University of Texas at Houston, also called attention to the responsibility of the mentee.

"Once you have received mentoring yourself," said Mancuso, "you are obligated to mentor others." Mancuso discouraged women from giving in to competitive feelings that would prevent this kind of reciprocation.

Santos added that people who want to be mentored must have a goal in mind and must also keep up with their end of the bargain. "Be a good mentee—always do your share of the work," advised Santos.

Mancuso also urged women not to limit themselves in selecting a mentor. "It can be helpful to be mentored by someone in another discipline, because they have a different perspective and are not in direct competition with you," she suggested.

Women shouldn’t rule out male mentorship either, she said, and to prove her point, Mancuso introduced her longtime mentor, fellow panelist Pedro Ruiz, M.D., professor and vice chair of the psychiatry department at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. At the close of the meeting, Ruiz joined the Board of Trustees as the newly elected APA secretary.

"I have mentored both men and women," said Ruiz, "and note that women are quite objective and have strong human values."

Ruiz said he enjoys mentoring because he always learns so much from the people he mentors.

But he cautioned against one common pitfall. "Sometimes we get demoralized in our work, and our self-esteem suffers." He advised members of the audience to constantly work on building self-esteem by contacting a supportive friend or colleague. Mentorship is not only an intellectual relationship, he indicated, but also one that is emotionally supportive.

Information about APA’s Women’s Mentoring Network can be obtained by e-mailing Tara McLoughlin, director of APA’s Office of Career Development and Women’s Programs, at women@psych.org. Information is also posted at www.psych.org/women/.

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Panelists dispense career advice to women psychiatrists. From left are Pedro Ruiz, M.D., Sandra Sexson, M.D., Donna Mancuso, M.D., Cynthia Santos, M.D., and Anu Matorin, M.D.

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