Editor’s note: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 Triological Society Combined Sections Meeting was held virtually on Jan. 29-30. The physical distance didn’t stop otolaryngologists in every specialty area from discussing the latest treatments, techniques, and issues in otolaryngology research and clinical practice. The following reports are a brief representation of these discussions from five presentations: Leadership, Rhinology, Head and Neck, Laryngology, and General Best Practices.
When he was a young physician as a fellow in Boston, Earl Harley Jr., MD, was the only African American in the entire department, and he felt isolated, he told a virtual audience in a pediatric otolaryngology panel session at the Triological Society Combined Sections Meeting.
Dr. Harley, now director of pediatric otolaryngology at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., said he now understands how mentoring could have gone a long way toward making his experience better. “No mentoring made me feel isolated and not part of the group,” Dr. Harley said. Mentors, he added, provide guidance, improve job performance, and give mentees the feeling of belonging.
Dr. Harley’s talk was part of a session on leadership in pediatric otolaryngology, with lessons that apply to all of otolaryngology, medicine, and beyond. Dr. Harley touched on how leaders are developed and the need to make leadership in medicine more ethnically and culturally diverse.
A good mentoring program, and the environment created by it, starts at the top and “trickles down,” said Dr. Harley, who has made mentoring a central part of his career. And it isn’t just formal mentoring programs, he added—mentors can be advisers, champions of projects, friends, and colleagues—and even mentees themselves, since mentors often learn from those they help. In addition, mentoring can provide personal benefits: It can reduce burnout, drug and alcohol abuse, and marital problems, Dr. Harley said.
A culture of mentoring also can help avoid the “leaky pipe,” a concept described by the University of Michigan that can be seen at the mid-career point in some organizations, when physicians may think, “Why should I stay?” if there is no mentoring or career advancement available.
“There must be buy-in from the leadership,” he cautioned. “And there must be an earnest effort to mentor, and you must be proactive. When you see a student who may feel isolated, try to offer yourself as a mentor.”
Steven Goudy, MD, MBA, director of pediatric otolaryngology at Emory University in Atlanta, talked about the importance of an organization’s core values. Although these values might often be forgotten or overlooked, they provide a framework for what an organization stands for, he said.
In a survey of surgery department chairs last year, “communicator,” “collaborator,” “motivator,” “trustworthy,” and “giving inspiration” were all used to describe successful chairs of academic surgery departments.
“It tells you what it means to be part of an organization,” said Dr. Goudy. “If you cascade it from the top to the bottom and it’s always consistent and it’s always about basic core values, then it makes it easy for employees know why they’re doing things. There isn’t confusion caused by the message from the top not getting to the bottom.”
An important value that’s increasingly appreciated but still needs more recognition is ethnic diversity, said Dr. Goudy. It’s not only the “right thing” to do from a human values perspective, he said, but it also makes good business sense.
“We’re becoming a more diverse place, so if you aren’t focused on diversity, if nothing else, your talent pool is shrinking, not to mention all the innovation that you’re going to lose out on,” he said. “People are really sizing up the organization’s diversity, equity, and inclusion, and they may give a hard pass to an organization that has the perfect job for them” if these elements are lacking.
Dr. Goudy also pointed out how organizations that take diversity seriously keep careful track of the percentages of unrepresented minorities in their departments and follow the trends over time. This is crucial if organizations expect to make gains in their ethnic diversity, he said. “You have to measure it if you want to improve it,” Dr. Goudy said.
Alessandro de Alarcón, MD, MPH, director of the Center for Pediatric Voice Disorders at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, said the debate continues on whether leaders are born or whether they can be made. He believes the latter is true.
In a survey of surgery department chairs last year, “communicator,” “collaborator,” “motivator,” “trustworthy,” and “giving inspiration” were all used to describe successful chairs of academic surgery departments. “Many of these are things that can be taught and can be trained,” Dr. de Alarcón said.
In the Michigan Surgical Leadership Program, said Dr. de Alarcón, an important leadership element that’s taught is a “time-value equation” in which there’s a constant assessment of how time is being used and a switching of gears if it can be spent better in some other way. The element also includes a level of introspection that allows a leader to take constructive criticism and put it to use. The program provides a way for new leaders to put into practice what they’ve learned.
Opportunities for leadership training abound, Dr. de Alarcón said, with internal institutional programs, outside leadership training, and leadership components of academic programs, such as MPH and MBA degrees. Growth and leadership coaches can also be helpful, he said, adding that matching someone with the right coach is crucial, along with having defined goals and an open mind. “Sometimes it’s important to work with individuals who are outside of the specialty or even outside of medicine because they can offer perspectives that you wouldn’t otherwise get,” he said.
In a discussion after the presentation, moderator Romaine Johnson, MD, MPH, associate professor of otolaryngology–head and neck surgery at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, cautioned the virtual audience, “At the end of the day, much of this is on you. You have to show up, you have to put in the work, you have to believe in yourself, and you have to bet on yourself.”
Dr. Johnson also said the Triological Society can help with leadership development. “For those of you thinking about expanding your networks, and showing that you mean business, this is a great society to join.”
Thomas R. Collins is a freelance medical writer based in Florida.