Inside Medicine at Weill Cornell: Mentorship


At Weill Cornell Medical College, mentorship isn’t a luxury. The opportunity to learn from and collaborate with one’s colleagues and patients is intrinsic to the medical college’s culture, an essential ingredient of excellent healthcare, research and education.

These relationships take many forms, formal and informal. But all are powerful, fostering nurturing and often long-term alliances inside Weill Cornell and beyond. In the new Inside Medicine at Weill Cornell video series, Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean, introduces viewers to three mentors and their mentees who are emblematic of what makes the institution flourish.

“No one succeeds in medicine alone,” Dr. Glimcher says. “Students become better doctors when they are inspired by the wisdom of their peers. Young scientists make the discoveries that transform patient care when senior faculty take an active and sustained interest in guiding them towards research they might not otherwise have had the confidence to pursue. And physicians are made better when they learn from their patients.”

Mentorship means setting an example of what’s possible – in and outside of the lab. At Weill Cornell, that means supporting the family life of students, faculty and staff.

For Ph.D. candidate Sarah Bettigole, that meant hearing from her mentor, Dr. Glimcher, that she need not decide between her personal and professional lives as she moved to New York to pursue her asthma research in the dean’s new lab. Dr. Bettigole began dating her boyfriend around the same time that Dr. Glimcher asked if members of her lab at Harvard, where she was previously a professor of immunology, wanted to make the move to New York City with her.

“She would always say, ‘Did he move down here yet?’” recalls Dr. Bettigole, the subject of the first episode. “Because that’s her attitude: the guy should move for the girl.”

Indeed, mentorship of female students and faculty is a special priority for Dean Glimcher. As a L’Oreal-UNESCO Women in Science awardee last year, Dr. Glimcher connected with junior laureates from around the world, serving as a role model for younger women pursuing science careers. The dean also created the Offices of Faculty Development and Diversity, which provide mentorship workshops for female and minority faculty. Their programs, such as SPARC, are designed to retain a diverse pool of talent at the medical college.

Mentorship is also about ensuring that promising scientists don’t coast on early successes – or limit themselves to what they’ve already proven they’re capable of. A mentor, says Sackler Professor and developmental psychobiologist Dr. BJ Casey, shows her mentees where their careers can go – and trusts that they will make decisions that are right for them.

“The most important part is to reinforce independence and not always try to overly direct or top-down influence someone – more sort of help them become who are they are,” says Dr. Casey, who describes the origins of her mentoring philosophy of Dr. Conor Liston in the second episode of the series.

In addition to mentorships that arise organically, Weill Cornell junior faculty have the opportunity to learn from established investigators in formalized settings such as the Mentored Clinical Research Training Program. There, young researchers from the medical college and affiliate Houston Methodist receive guidance over the course of a year from senior faculty on how to conduct clinical research. The program reinforces collaboration between the partner institutions, as well as furthers a culture of mentorship at both. Early career faculty also can cultivate leadership skills through the Leadership in Academic Medicine Program, which provides second- to fourth-year scientists information on how to seek out mentors, among other things.

In another innovative Weill Cornell program for medical students, mentors take the form of peers and patients. The Longitudinal Educational Experience Advancing Patient Partnerships program (LEAP) pairs first- and second-year students, who are assigned two patients to follow over the course of their studies. In addition to hearing about the experiences of students who are farther along in their studies, participants learn to view their patients holistically, and to partner with their patients as compassionate, empathetic caregivers, says Jennifer Harmon, a patient mentor who is part of the program.

“Being a patient, I was thrilled with the idea of looking at what happens when a doctor and a patient go into a room together and the door is shut. What is that relationship? What was the patient looking for, what was the doctor looking for?” says Harmon, who is as touched by her students as they are by her in the third episode of the series. “It’s not you the doctor over there and me over here. It’s more, we’re meeting in the middle and we’re partners. You know more than I do medically, but I know more than you do about me personally. You need to help me be able to tell you what I’m going through.”

The best thing about being a mentor, adds Dr. Casey, is seeing mentees pay it forward. “Now he is training the next generation of scientists,” she says of Dr. Liston. “And I think I enjoy that as much as talking to him about his new discoveries.”

For more information, please view Weill Cornell Medical College’s page here.