Section Spotlight: Women In Otolaryngology | Mentorship and Networking in the Era of COVID-19
Each year during the AAO-HNSF Annual Meeting, the WIO Leadership Development and Mentorship Committee hosts a networking event for members.
Cecelia E. Schmalbach, MD, MSc, Chair, WIO Leadership Development and Mentorship Committee
Each year during the AAO-HNSF Annual Meeting, the WIO Leadership Development and Mentorship Committee hosts a networking event for members. When COVID-19 forced the meeting to go virtual in 2020, the committee pivoted to sustain this vital platform. Thanks to the support of James C. Denneny III, MD, AAO-HNS/F Executive Vice President and CEO, and WIO staff liaisons Pamela Gilbert and Elise Swinehart, a one-hour networking and mentorship virtual event was created to include two 15-minute breakout rooms. Women leaders and mentors from across North America volunteered to share their experiences (right). The virtual networking event was extremely well received with 109 registrants within the first 72 hours (28% mid-career, 27.5% early career, 22% residents, 12% late career, and 9% fellows). A breakdown of registrants by career level and topics of interest is illustrated in Figure 1.
Although nothing replaces physical presence, this virtual event provided a flexible and cost-effective venue to meet WIO members’ needs across the country. Polling conducted between breakout sessions revealed that two-thirds of attendees would not have been able to participate if the event was hosted during the traditional in-person 6:00 am (ET) breakfast meeting. Polling also revealed that networking and mentorship is a strong desire of WIO members, with two-thirds of attendees requesting additional events beyond the Annual Meeting. A post-event debrief among the mentors identified common themes transcending breakout rooms, including how to get involved in the Academy, strategies for work-life balance, handling micro- and macroaggressions, and how to overcome unrealistic work expectations from your boss.
Feedback from this inaugural WIO virtual mentorship and networking event led to the establishment of small peer-mentoring groups to meet virtually throughout the year (26 members assigned to five communities based on career level). The committee is establishing a Virtual Leadership Library and will host an associated virtual book club in conjunction with the AAO-HNS/F 2021 Leadership Forum & BOG Spring Meeting. Given the high level of enthusiasm, WIO will continue networking via a series of virtual and interactive “Fireside Chats” and “Coffee Talks” to address common themes. While COVID-19 has been extremely disruptive, the pandemic afforded WIO the opportunity to expand its networking and mentorship program beyond a yearly breakfast meeting to better meet the needs of its members.