Mentoring to advance global health

February 28, 2019

In global health, like many fields, mentoring is the process of passing the less tangible elements of a successful career to the next generation of scientists.  

In the US, mid- and late-career professionals often mentor younger scientists on their path to scientific and career advancement; in fact, many institutions run formal mentoring programs. However, in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) mentoring and mentorship programs are far less common, leaving young scientists from LMICs at a disadvantage.  

Mentoring in Low- and Middle-Income Countries to Advance Global Health Research is a new supplement intended to guide institutional leaders from LMICs in designing successful mentoring programs.

Serving as guest editor, Dr. Craig Cohen, co-director of the University of California Global Health Institute, collaborated with 40 leading scientists from around the world to publish the supplement in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene (AJTMH).

“Mentoring needs to be scaled up in LMIC institutions in order to ensure that young scientists from LMICs have a greater opportunity to advance science most relevant to improving the health of their countries which for the most part suffer the burden of disease around the world,” said Cohen.

Many LMIC institutions provide supervision for scholars but the concept of mentorship is underdeveloped, according to Dr. Elizabeth Bukusi, co-director of the Research Care & Training Program at the Kenya Medical Research Institute and contributing author to the AJTMH supplement.

“A mentor does not work with a mentee to only get a task competed as a supervisor would, but helps the mentee go beyond what they may think they can accomplish,” said Bukusi.

One of the supplement’s articles, Strengthening Mentoring in Low- and Middle-Income Countries to Advance Global Health Research: An Overview, expands on mentoring in the context of LMICs, explaining that a country’s history with authoritarian or hierarchal culture can seep into the culture of educational institutions. This creates barriers for junior scientists who may not feel safe debating or bonding with senior scientists. Additionally, faculty often do not receive compensation or recognition that counts towards promotion for mentoring efforts, leaving little incentive to spend time doing it.

“Through broad support and leadership, mentoring programs [at LMIC institutions] can be developed to ensure they benefit both seasoned scientists (i.e. mentors) and mentees,” said Cohen. Cohen and his co-authors argue that formally acknowledging the value of mentoring and establishing rules that support debate among colleagues are key in building successful mentorship programs in the LMIC context.

The supplement’s nine articles include:

Mentoring in Low- and Middle-Income Countries to Advance Global Health Research is available online and is part of the March 2019 edition of the AJTMH.