Rationale and Models for Career Advancement Sponsorship in Academic Medicine: The Time Is Here; the Time Is Now

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Abstract

The business community has honed the concept of sponsorship and promulgated its utility for harnessing the talent of high-performing women and minorities whose contributions often go unrecognized within organizations. In recent years, academic medicine has begun to do the same. Whereas mentorship often centers on personal and professional development (e.g., skill building and goal setting), sponsorship focuses on enhancing the visibility, credibility, and professional networks of talented individuals. For upward career mobility, mentorship is limited in scope. Sponsorship, on the other hand, directly targets career advancement and is anchored in the sponsor’s awareness of organizational structures and critical professional opportunities for junior faculty. Men are more likely to garner sponsors informally, and these sponsors tend to be male. Existing disparities between male and female medical faculty in achievement of academic rank and leadership roles, compensation, and research support suggest that high-performing women have a visibility gap. Such systemic inequity reflects a suboptimal business model that limits organizational potential. Formal sponsorship programs that match women with senior leaders facilitate access to beneficial relationships and institutionalize the value of equal opportunity. In this Perspective, the authors describe two successful sponsorship models that exist within academic medicine, the Society of General Internal Medicine’s Career Advising Program and MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Leaders’ Sponsorship Program. They issue a call to action for much broader implementation of sponsorship programming to cultivate the advancement of all talented medical faculty and provide recommendations for such endeavors.

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