Batting 300 Is Good: Perspectives of Faculty Researchers and Their Mentors on Rejection, Resilience, and Persistence in Academic Medical Careers

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Abstract

Purpose

Professional rejection is a frequent experience in an academic medical career. The authors sought to understand how rejection affects those pursuing such careers and why some individuals may be more resilient than others in a population of individuals with demonstrated ability and interest in research careers.

Method

Between February 2010 and August 2011, the authors conducted semistructured, in-depth telephone interviews with 100 former recipients of National Institutes of Health mentored career development awards and 28 of their mentors. Purposive sampling ensured a diverse range of viewpoints. Multiple analysts thematically coded verbatim transcripts using qualitative data analysis software.

Results

Participants described a variety of experiences with criticism and rejection in their careers, as well as an acute need for persistence and resilience in the face of such challenges. Through their narratives, participants also vividly described a range of emotional and behavioral responses to their experiences of professional rejection. Their responses illuminated the important roles that various factors, including mentoring and gender, have played in shaping the ultimate influence of rejection on their own careers and on the careers of those they have mentored.

Conclusions

Responses to rejection vary considerably, and negative responses can lead promising individuals to abandon careers in academic medicine. Resilience does not, however, seem to be immutable—It can be learned. Given the frequency of experiences with rejection in academic medicine, strategies such as training mentors to foster resilience may be particularly helpful in improving faculty retention in academic medicine.

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