Category Archives: Mentoring

May 13 2013

The Importance of Mentoring in Achieving Greater Diversity in the Biomedical Workforce

Gary H. Gibbons, MD, is director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health. He is an alumnus of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Program. This is part of a series of posts looking at diversity in the health care workforce.


Growing up in a predominantly African American neighborhood in Philadelphia, high blood pressure, strokes, and heart attacks were common. When I got to medical school, I asked one of my professors why the African American community tended to have a higher prevalence of these medical conditions. He introduced me to biomedical science for the first time and challenged me to pursue that question on my own. I've continued to look for the answer to that provocative question ever since.


Similar to that early experience, mentorship has been a determining factor in my career trajectory. I might not have pursued a research career at all if it hadn't been for Harvard Medical School professor A. Clifford Barger who inspired me to ask and answer difficult research questions. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Harold Amos Program pushed me further with their emphasis on mentorship, which gave me a sense of community with the many scholars interested in the same research problems. It was my experience with a National Institutes of Health T32 training grant when I was starting out as an investigator that inspired me to give back to a younger set of minority researchers by becoming a K Award mentor and leading a T32 program at Morehouse School of Medicine.

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May 3 2013

Hard Work and Investing in Others Opens Opportunities

Felix German Contreras, 22, of Atlantic City, N.J., credits his 2012 participation in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP), and his teachers at the Yale University site, for opening new doors to opportunities. A naturalized U.S. citizen, Contreras emigrated to the U.S. with his family at age 6. He will graduate from Atlantic Cape Community College next year and plans to attend Yale School of Medicine. Started in 1988, more than 21,000 alumni have completed SMDEP, which today sponsors 12 university sites with each accepting up to 80 students per summer session. This is part of a series of posts looking at diversity in the health care workforce.


Living as an immigrant and student with only part-time employment is a daily battle. But I will never allow these challenges to slay my dreams. With so many struggles, I am often asked: “Felix, how do you do it?”

I cannot help but smile when I reply, as it is not a secret; nor do I believe it is a talent—it is simply a strong work ethic. I have realized the best things in life are the hardest to obtain.


My doors to new unexpected opportunities were opened when a late-night online search in 2012 led me to the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program. I applied and was accepted at the six-week program’s Yale University site. It was there where I met mentors and students with similar aspirations to improve communities through medicine. Not only did the intensive program place me on a sure-footed path toward a health sciences career, my English improved tremendously through rigorous reading and writing. You can’t believe how much six weeks can give someone who is eager to receive. SMDEP exposed me to countless possibilities on the other side.

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Feb 20 2013

A Few Thoughts on Mentoring

Christine R. Kovach, PhD, RN, FAAN, is a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and editor of Research in Gerontological Nursing.


Human Capital Blog: Why is mentoring in nursing important?

Christine Kovach: There is ample evidence (see, for example,  the Institute Of Medicine’s Future of Nursing report) that there is a pressing need to continue building our discipline’s capacity to conduct research that advances science, addresses urgent health problems, and informs public policy. Nursing’s perspectives on improving individual and aggregate health are more holistic, contextual and participative than many other disciplines’ perspectives.  These deeply embedded values make our contributions especially valuable and also create the need to often use sophisticated research methods in real clinical situations that have ecological validity.

As the quality, complexity, and contributions of our science continue to grow, the need for intensive, committed mentoring relationships has grown too. Mentoring is an important and pleasurable role for senior academicians and scientists. It is gratifying to see the work of young scholars unfold and develop. It is also rewarding to help mentees develop confidence and clarity as they move forward with their innovations. Mentoring is often perceived as a benefit to the mentee, but I can attest that mentors also benefit from the relationship.

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Jan 29 2013

RWJF Human Capital Funding Opportunities

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) provides grants for people and projects in the United States and U.S. territories that advance the Foundation’s mission to improve the health and health care of all Americans. The following are the current funding opportunities from RWJF’s Human Capital portfolio:

RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars
The RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars program is working to develop the next generation of national leaders in academic nursing through career development awards for outstanding junior nursing faculty. The program aims to strengthen the academic productivity and overall excellence of nursing schools by providing mentorship, leadership training, and salary and research support to young faculty. Applicants must be registered nurses who have achieved high levels of education and nursing research, and must be in an academic position that could lead to tenure for at least two years and no more than five years at the start of the program. Up to 12 awards will be given. The deadline is February 12, 2013. Learn more.

RWJF Clinical Scholars
The RWJF Clinical Scholars program, a collaboration of RWJF and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, seeks to foster the development of physicians who will lead the transformation of Americans’ health and health care. These future leaders will conduct innovative research and work with communities, organizations, practitioners and policy-makers to address issues essential to the health and well-being of all Americans. Eligible applicants must be committed to a career in academic medicine, public health, health policy or another career congruent with the program’s purposes and priorities of developing physician leaders and skilled researchers; applicants must also have completed the clinical requirements of their residency training by the date of entry into the program. Up to 20 applicants will be selected in 2013 for an appointment beginning in summer 2014. The deadline is February 28, 2013. Learn more.

See all the current calls for proposals from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Jan 17 2013

Sharing Nursing’s Knowledge: What’s in the Latest Issue

Have you signed up to receive Sharing Nursing’s Knowledge? The monthly Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) e-newsletter will keep you up to date on the work of RWJF’s nursing programs, and the latest news, research and trends relating to academic progression, leadership and other critically important nursing issues.  These are some of the stories in the January issue:

Mentoring: A Boon to Nurses, the Nursing Profession, and Patients, Too
The 2010 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on the future of nursing found that mentoring is a good way to strengthen the nursing workforce and, in turn, improve the quality of care and patient outcomes. Mentoring helps nurses develop into the kind of leaders who can play a larger part in the development, design and delivery of health care. They also help with practical advice; see how mentors helped one struggling young nurse meet the challenges of balancing work and family.

RWJF Scholar Triumphs Over Chronic Pain and Brings Lessons to the Nursing Profession
After living with chronic––but preventable––pain for nearly a decade, RWJF New Careers in Nursing (NCIN) scholar John Pederzolli, RN, BS, finally found relief. Pederzolli’s struggle inspired him to become a nurse, which he was able to do because he received a New Careers in Nursing scholarship. Now a newly minted nurse in Ohio, Pederzolli says one good thing came out of his experience: an appreciation for listening—a skill that has already come in handy in his new career.

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Dec 14 2012

Meet RWJF New Connections

This is part of a series introducing programs in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Human Capital Portfolio.

Raphael Travis, DrPH, knows the power of New Connections. For Travis, New Connections’ training events—such as symposiums and coaching clinics—were an important source for professional development in a welcoming atmosphere. He says, “I heard about the actual grants during the training workshop and knew I had to apply. The ambiance was inspiring, welcoming and needed. The combination of a supportive atmosphere and intellectual depth transcended what my home University offered. I was very excited to apply.”

file Raphael Travis, DrPH

Travis, a 2008 grantee, is an assistant professor at Texas State University- San Marcos. His New Connections project uses data collected in the 1997-2002 evaluation of Health Link, a program established to help reduce substance abuse among individuals returning to their New York City community after incarceration at Riker’s Island. The study explores: how positive youth development opportunities relate to recidivism; the relationships among mental health, substance use and recidivism across time points; and the potential cultural uniqueness between African-American and Latino youth.

file Hector Rodriguez, PhD, MPH

Hector Rodriguez, PhD, MPH, knows the power of New Connections too. For Rodriguez, the program offered training and new research methods that powered his work. Rodriguez says, “New Connections is a fantastic opportunity for underrepresented junior faculty to pursue important public health and health care research, while being connected to a large network of prominent scholars.”

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Nov 7 2012

Education Progression: We Need Mentorship and Support for all Nurses to Become Lifelong Learners

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Human Capital Blog is asking diverse experts: What is and isn’t working in health professions education today, and what changes are needed to prepare a high-functioning health and health care workforce that can meet the country’s current and emerging needs? Today’s post is by Linda Dedo, RN, MSN/MHA, medical center manager, University of Virginia, and co-lead of the Virginia Action Coalition Education Progression Workgroup.


Education progression is an important objective for today’s nursing workforce. I have been a nurse for 40 years and, as I reflect, my career has been an exercise in progression. I first became interested in nursing as a young teen when my mother helped me become a Red Cross candy striper. I did volunteer work at several local nursing homes until my senior year in high school when I enrolled in a vocational practical nursing program.

I graduated from this program at age 19 and began my formal nursing career. I worked in acute care hospital settings for 20 years and I always thought I was a good nurse. I was well-respected by my peers and well-liked by my patients. I collaborated well with the physicians and other health care leaders in my organization, but I was beginning to realize that I would need to return to school if I expected to continue to grow in my bedside nursing role in a large academic medical center.

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Oct 2 2012

Motivating the Next Generation of Minority Physicians

Alden M. Landry, MD, MPH and Kameron Leigh Matthews, MD, JD are  co-directors of Tour for Diversity in Medicine, a grassroots effort to educate, inspire, and cultivate future minority physicians. Landry, 31, is an emergency medicine physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, and Matthews, 33, and is the medical director for a Chicago-based family health clinic. Landry is an alumnus of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP), formerly the Minority Medical Education Program.

Alden Landry reflects on the second Tour for Diversity which ended last week:


Dr Matthews and I created the Tour for Diversity in Medicine (T4D) to reach out to students in their comfort zones and show them that they could be successful and become health care providers. We enlisted the help of our friends and colleagues to come along with us on the tour as Mentors, to lead lectures, workshops and interactive sessions and motivate the next generation of minority physicians. The Mentors range from pre-health advisors to medical and dental students as well as physicians and dentists in practice. More importantly, they share their personal stories with students. We’ve found this to be one of the most valuable parts of the tour—giving a human face to what can sometimes seem like an unattainable profession.

The tour was different than our earlier, February tour because we had a broader mix of host institutions. Host institutions ranged from small historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to larger institutions. We visited schools in rural settings as well as large cities. Each institution was as unique as were the students who attended and the stories we heard.

There wasn't just one stop that was memorable. All of the stops were filled with amazing groups of students hungry for more knowledge about careers in medicine and dentistry.

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Sep 26 2012

Mentors: On Belay?

By Tim Landers, PhD, CNP and Taura Barr, PhD, RN.  Both authors are 2012 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholars who recently participated in Outward Bound as part of their orientation to the program.  Landers is an assistant professor at The Ohio State University College of Nursing; and Barr is an assistant professor in the School of Nursing, West Virginia University.


Belay: 1)  to secure (as a rope) by turns around a cleat, pin, or bitt, 2) stop, 3) to secure (a person) at the end of a rope, to secure (a rope) to a person. 

--Merriam-Webster Dictionary

In rock climbing, the rock climber is watched over by someone called a belayer who stands at the bottom of the cliff and is attached to the climber with a rope and some hardware.

Belaying is a lot like mentoring.

The primary job of the belayer is safety. It’s not that the climber won’t make mistakes and won’t fall – it’s that when the climber makes mistakes, the results aren’t catastrophic.  When the climber slips, he or she has a chance to learn from the belayer and to try again.  Sometimes, the belayer is a coach, pointing out where to place your hands and feet next or identify easier routes up the rock, but the belayer’s primary job is to stay alert for slips and falls, letting out slack as needed and letting the climber climb.

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Sep 11 2012

Project L/EARN: Graduates Reflect

Project L/EARN is an intensive, 10-week summer internship for undergraduate college students who are from socioeconomic, ethnic, and cultural groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in graduate education. The program, funded in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, provides students with training, experience and mentoring to make them stronger candidates for admission to graduate programs. Interns attend lecture sessions, complete Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) preparation, and work with mentors to write a research paper, which they present as a poster. This year’s program was held at the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research at Rutgers University. This is part of a series of posts where scholars who completed the program discuss the experience. Learn more about Project L/EARN.


Alison Hernandez
Hometown: North Bergen, NJ
Rising senior at Rutgers University
Major: Pharmacy
Internship Research Project: The Influence of Patient Health Perceptions on Engagement in End-of-Life Discussions

Human Capital Blog: How does your Project L/EARN experience relate to or support your educational and professional goals?

Alison Hernandez: Before Project L/EARN I did not have appreciation for research the way I do today. As a prospective clinician, I think it’s important that clinicians know about research and improving health outcomes through programs and initiatives. And if clinicians don’t know about this research that’s going on, nothing’s going to change. So it’s important that I take these lessons I’ve learned at Project L/Earn and bring it to my fellow classmates.

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