Published: May 27, 2021

The Value of Mentors, Role Models, Sponsors, and Coaches in Otolaryngology

I have been remarkably fortunate to have a wonderful professional career as an otolaryngologist who specializes in head and neck cancer surgery.

Carol R. Bradford, MD, MS, AAO-HNS/F PresidentCarol R. Bradford, MD, MS
AAO-HNS/F President
“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” 

— Isaac Newton

I have been remarkably fortunate to have a wonderful professional career as an otolaryngologist who specializes in head and neck cancer surgery. I have also been blessed to have been given the opportunity to hold many important leadership positions: Chair of the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Michigan Medical School, Dean of The Ohio State University College of Medicine, and President of the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery. As I reflect upon my own career to date, I truly believe that none of this would have been possible without mentors, sponsors, role models, and coaches. Let’s begin with some definitions. Mentors provide guidance while role models offer an example. Sponsors afford opportunity while coaches empower us to be our best selves. 

I had the privilege of serving as the Chair of the Women in Otolaryngology Leadership Development and Mentorship Committee from 2012 to 2018. Further, I have had the privilege of serving as a mentor to many otolaryngologists around the country and world. Strong mentorship enables each of us to grow, to learn, and to both create and accomplish our goals. A mentor needs to be available, actively listen, give honest and objective feedback, and both motivate and challenge the mentee to be their best self. In today’s complex world of medicine, whether academic, blended, or private practice, having a mentor can mean the difference between success and failure. 

So what’s in it for the mentor? Serving as a mentor can provide a renewed sense of meaning and purpose when one has the opportunity to make a positive difference in a colleague’s life and career. The mentor also has the opportunity build a collaborative partnership with a talented colleague. Perhaps most of all, a mentor derives great satisfaction by contributing to a legacy of developing the next generation of colleagues and otolaryngologists.

Sponsors are those individuals in your life who put your name forward for important roles and responsibilities. They believe in you and are confident in your ability to be successful. We all need these people in our lives and careers. Networking at our AAO-HNSF Annual Meeting & OTO Experience is a great way to find sponsors. The Academy has a vast array of committees, and participation on a committee is a great way to get involved. 

Some of you may know that I am the mother of a former collegiate gymnast who subsequently worked as a volunteer coach of her college gymnastics team. This circumstance gave me a fabulous opportunity to truly appreciate the value and importance of coaches. I have also had the privilege of working with an executive coach when I took on new leadership roles. Coaches are really special people. They have a unique way of helping us gain insight into our strengths and our weaknesses, while instilling confidence. A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment. 

Finally, role models are those people who you look up to and aspire to emulate. One of the role models in my career was the late Charles J. Krause, MD. He served as the chair of the Otolaryngology Department at the University of Michigan from 1977 until 1992. He also served as Past Treasurer and Past President of our Academy. I had the privilege of holding the Collegiate Professorship created in his name and honor from 2012 through 2018. Chuck was described as being a gifted surgeon and mentor. Ever the calm and thoughtful visionary, he served our profession with distinction.

Leadership development and mentorship is one of the project areas that is part of our 125 Strong Campaign. There are many important mentorship initiatives being launched. Our Young Physicians Section is launching a peer mentorship initiative at the upcoming AAO-HNSF 2021 Annual Meeting. mENTor, which is a new AAO-HNS program that connects medical student members to practicing otolaryngologists around the country, started in May and already has 234 students and 155 volunteer mentors signed up. It is gratifying to see the dedication and willingness to help others during disruptive times. For more information and to get involved, visit the AAO-HNS website

The future of our specialty is bright due to the tremendous numbers of mentors, sponsors, coaches, and role models who are members of the Academy. Thank you for all you are doing to advance our field.