Mentoring to advance global health

August 23, 2017

Mentorship is not always recognized as a critical tool in the advancement of science – but 16 global health experts from around the world are trying to change that.

Earlier this year, leaders from Fogarty International Center (FIC)-funded fellowship programs gathered to discuss mentorship in the global health field. UCGHI’s GloCal Health Fellowship program director Craig Cohen, MD, MPH and UCSF professor Monica Gandhi, MD, MPH convened the group.

Since 2013, the Fogarty-funded consortia have held a series of trainings in low- and middle-income countries to support international partners in developing and strengthening institutional and regional mentorship programs. This year, leaders in global health from the U.S. and partner institutions from Kenya, South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, Peru, and India took a step back to examine challenges and best practices such as how to leverage resources to support colleagues abroad and how to build an institutional culture that supports mentorship to advance the careers of trainees and faculty.

"Global health is…about cross-disciplinary work and partnerships,” said Andrés G. (Willy) Lescano, PhD, MHS of Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, adding that mentorship programs “improve the procurement and retainment of scientists in the field."

Indeed, the cross-disciplinary nature of global health makes collaboration essential to the design and implementation of transformative health solutions. Formalizing collaboration into mentorship programs geared towards training the next generation of global health practitioners takes the collective spirit of global health a step further, explained Lescano.

Mentor/mentee relationships offer an “opportunity for [mentees] to attain their highest levels of success,” Cohen said. Leveraging ideas from leaders in global health allows trainees to think more broadly and, ultimately, advance science, as Cohen put it.

Both Lescano and Cohen emphasize the joy that mentor/mentee relationships can bring to life and work, leading to happier, more rewarding careers.

Although the value of mentorship is clear, organizational priorities and economic disparities pose a threat to successful programs, especially abroad. Institutions in low-resource settings often face challenges with funding, support from leadership and implementation of mentorship programs, according to Cohen.

In many developing countries, Lescano describes a tradition of reverence toward superiors and a strong chain of command that can hinder open discussion between mentees and mentors. As a Fogarty partner, he is working “to overcome a lack of a culture of mentorship” by promoting the benefits of mentorship and encouraging it at all levels of his institution – including peer-mentoring programs.

Cohen hopes these discussions lead to mentorship growing as a field of study. In fact, the group plans to summarize their discussions in a series of papers for publication. From conceptual frameworks for mentoring, to mentorship and ethics in the global health setting, to case studies from partner institutions, these papers will lay the groundwork for examining mentorship in the context of global health.

Stay tuned.