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Meet Dr. Kim Nichols, an Associate Professor of Anesthe

Meet Dr. Kim Nichols, an Associate Professor of Anesthesiology and new Associate Dean for DEI Faculty Access and Success. Dr. Nichols’ passion for education and love for helping others has led her to become heavily involved with mentorship and sponsorship. We recently interviewed Dr. Nichols to learn about her involvement with helping to develop the care of Jr. faculty, as well as some of the opportunities that are available for underrepresented groups within the School of Medicine.

Q.: From your perspective, in what areas do those who identify as underrepresented

in medicine (URM) and junior faculty need support in most?

A.: I definitely feel like these groups could benefit most in two areas: mentorship and sponsorship. Mentorship to help these individuals identify in which direction they would like their career to go. Sponsorship serves to connect them with other individuals or opportunities that can facilitate said direction.

Q.: What opportunities are available to support URM faculty?

A.: Current opportunities include the Academic Career Leadership Academy in Medicine (ACCLAIM) program, which is a year-long cross-disciplinary leadership program for underrepresented faculty. ACCLAIM allows junior faculty to build leadership skills in a mutli-faceted approach and offers executive coaching sessions. They meet key stakeholders within the School of Medicine and health care system and receive lectures on leadership. The program culminates with a leadership project.

The Simmons Program also supports groups that are underrepresented in medicine and places emphasis on building a community of scholars across disciplines. Additionally, participants have the ability to receive funding for up to three years through the Simmons program.

Q.: Why/how valuable are these mentorship and sponsorship opportunities?

A.: In general, Jr. faculty would benefit from mentorship early in their careers. When this happens, people can often avoid engaging in activities that are not helpful for their career trajectory. At this level, some faculty also may not know who the people are that can help them in their careers or how to access programs or opportunities that can provide critical information or to put them in contact with the right people. The roles of mentors and sponsors are different, but one person can serve both roles.  It is important for individuals seeking mentorship and/or sponsorship to know the difference. These programs can allow individuals underrepresented in medicine to connect with both.

Q.: What has support for the underrepresented in medicine historically looked like compared to now?

A.: The development and focused approach on mentorship and sponsorship has strengthened over time. Both the ACCLAIM Program and the Simmons Program have existed for several years.  Additionally, the Medical Education Development (MED) program has existed for many years at UNC to support our pipeline of students into medical school, and once in school, programs such as Student National Medical Association (SNMA) and Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) have also been available to help support students.  What had not previously existed in an organized fashion was a way to build community amongst multiple levels of underrepresented individuals in medicine.

Under Dr. Nate Thomas’ leadership, the SOM has added to its mentorship and sponsorship portfolio. He has initiated the STAHR mentorship program (Students in Training, Academia, Health, and Research), which promotes collaboration and is multi-tiered to include faculty, residents, and students at different levels. It has been a wonderful addition, as the program builds community and helps participants recognize and connect with other underrepresented members. I feel optimistic that more senior and junior faculty will get involved in these many opportunities and help this growth trend to continue. People are not always aware of opportunities, so we definitely want to alert them of what is available.

Q.: Why have you personally been compelled to mentor Jr. faculty?

A.: As a student, resident and later, a fellow, I was a bit more reserved than I am now and less likely to ask someone if they would serve as a mentor for me. With experience and as I have grown over time, I have learned to speak up for what I need.  In hindsight, if I had more robust relationships with senior faculty, I might have more quickly identified my desired career path and been able to develop a plan to get there. My own personal experience has certainly fueled by drive to mentor and sponsor others.

Q.: What direct benefits or work have you seen come from these mentorship relationships?

A.: I have several Jr. faculty mentees and one of the first steps in our relationship was to identify what it was that the mentees wanted a). out of our relationship and b). for their careers.  For those who have expressed interested, I have gotten them more involved in the School of Medicine by mentioning their names in circles with key stakeholders.  At the resident level, I help learners format their CVs, provide examples of cover letters, and edit both depending on their goals. I also provide them with questions to ask at interviews, information on how to evaluate potential job opportunities, and participate in discussions about work-life integration. I know this is something that is needed in graduate medical education, which is why I am happy to help provide leadership in this way.

Q.: Who should underrepresented junior faculty connect with for more information?

A.: They should contact the Office of Inclusive Excellence and connect with Drs. Kim Nichols, Nate Thomas, or Stephanie Brown.