Virtual Panel on Power of Mentoring Takes Center Stage at Women in Philanthropy Meeting

Stephanie McGilvray, Kara Caruthers, Linda Delaney, and Klarisse Mathis

During an evening in March, Stephanie McGilvray, MMSc, PA-C, is the moderator of a virtual discussion during the spring quarterly meeting for the PA Foundation’s newest initiative, Women in Philanthropy. She leads a panel of PAs in a conversation called Mentors: Managing a Successful Career in Healthcare. McGilvray starts the discussion by asking a panel of three esteemed PAs this question: “What is the value of having a mentor?”

The panelists—Kara Caruthers, MSPAS, PA-C, Linda Delaney, MPAS, PA-C, and Klarisse Mathis, MS, PA-C—agree that mentors should be honest, giving PAs objective feedback that they can use to reach their goals. Mathis also says that a mentoring relationship is a potential networking opportunity. “It’s definitely who you know, so I want to connect to these people who can [also help] lead to other people,” adds Mathis, who practices in orthopedics at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

During the hour-long discussion, the panelists dive deeper into many aspects of mentorship, telling the audience of women leaders about their experiences with their own mentors and how PAs can select and build a relationship with a mentor.

“We’re so fortunate that we are able to have a huge pool of mentors,” says Delaney, who practiced in internal medicine for 32 years at Parkland Health & Hospital System in Dallas, Texas. “I really think that we should be taking advantage of that, particularly as women leaders now because as we all know, our profession didn’t start out that way.”

What to Consider First

The first step in talking about mentorship is understanding how the word is defined. Caruthers says that mentorship is when someone talks to us. “We’re going to have a conversation,” adds Caruthers, who serves as assistant PA program director, associate professor, and director of community engagement, diversity, and recruitment at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, Tennessee.

Then, when PAs decide they want a mentoring relationship, they should be honest with themselves about their boundaries and how they like to communicate. For example, Caruthers is a night owl who does not like early meetings, while Delaney prefers to talk in the morning over a cup of coffee. Their communication styles play a part in determining whether they would be a good match for a potential mentor or mentee.

From there, the mentor and mentee need to feel like they click with one another. “It’s sort of like a dating game,” says Delaney, who is also a director at large for the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) Board of Directors. “Sometimes the connection is not going to be there. And it doesn’t mean you’re failing as a mentor or that a mentee can’t be mentored. It’s just that there does have to be a connection.”

Selecting a Mentor

Mentoring relationships can start in a couple ways. In her 11 years as a PA, Caruthers has had many mentors, and half of those relationships developed because she asked other PAs with similar values for support. “I would say, ‘This is what I’m looking for, [and] I see that you’re also into this. Would you mind if I call you from time to time and we have a conversation, and I bounce ideas off of you?’” says Caruthers, who is also the president-elect for the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA).

Some of Caruthers’ relationships also developed organically, and that required her to be open to the possibility that anyone could be a potential mentor.

“I’m a Black woman, but I’ve had phenomenal white male mentors,” Caruthers says. She emphasizes that mentoring relationships go beyond physical and cultural similarities and are more rooted in our values and belief systems. She recommends being open to many possible mentors so you are prepared to seize the right professional opportunity, even if it comes in an unexpected package. “Some of those [relationships] have been the most meaningful to me,” she acknowledges.

It’s also important to remember that mentoring relationships can be short-term. Caruthers has had mentors with whom she’s only had a couple conversations. “But they fed into me and gave me a nugget,” she says. “I value those as well.”

Lessons Learned from Mentors

In her long career, Delaney has learned from her mentors that PAs, especially women, need to put themselves out there. Her research for a capstone project confirmed this: She collected data that showed that men will often say yes to advancement positions, even if they don’t have the skill set, and figure it out later, while women tend to think they’re not ready. “Go for it,” Delaney says. “You are ready.”

To keep mentoring relationships strong, Mathis says it’s important to respect the mentor and the time they are investing in their mentees. That means to show up on time, be serious about the relationship, and show gratitude whenever possible. “You can never show too much appreciation,” she says.

Caruthers says she has learned to be herself in her role as a PA. “As a Black woman, that’s probably the biggest piece of advice,” she says. She encourages PAs not to be ashamed to show up as themselves: “I show up as me—natural hair, big earrings, I can be a little loud and preachy at times. Because you’re never going to be for everybody, right? But I’m always going to be for me.”

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