Early Career

Mentoring during fellowship to improve career fit, decrease burnout, and optimize career satisfaction among young gastroenterologists



Dr. Edward L. Barnes of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hilll

Dr. Edward L. Barnes

Burnout in physicians has received significant attention within the past several years, particularly among trainees and early-career physicians. The subspecialties of gastroenterology and hepatology are not immune to burnout, with multiple studies indicating that early career gastroenterologists may be disproportionately affected, compared with their more-established counterparts.1-4 Although the drivers of depersonalization, emotional exhaustion, and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment among trainees and early-career gastroenterologists are not fully understood, maximizing career fit during the transition from fellowship into the first posttraining position has been promoted as a potential method to decrease burnout in this population.4,5

While most trainees enter gastroenterology fellowships with a set of predefined career goals, mentorship during fellowship can provide critical guidance along with exposure to new areas and career tracks that were not previously considered. In a survey of gastroenterology and transplant hepatology fellows, 94% of participants with a mentor reported that the mentor significantly influenced their career decision.6 Effective mentoring also has been identified as one possible method to decrease burnout among trainees.7,8

Formal mentoring in gastroenterology fellowship programs might decrease burnout through effectively identifying risk factors such as work hour violations or a lack of social support. Additionally, when fellows are being prepared for transition to their first positions as attending gastroenterologists, there is a critical opportunity to improve career fit and decrease burnout rates among early-career gastroenterologists. Making the correct choice of subsequent career path after fellowship might be a source of stress, but this should allow early-career gastroenterologists to maximize the time spent doing those activities they feel are the most rewarding. A formal mentoring system and an accessible career mentor can be invaluable in allowing the mentee to identify and select that position.

Career fit

The concept of career fit has been described as the ability of individuals to focus their effort on the aspect or aspects of their work that they find most meaningful.5 Multiple specialties have recognized the importance of career fit and the need to choose appropriately when selecting a position and career path upon completing fellowship. In one evaluation of faculty members from the department of medicine at a large academic medical center, those individuals who spent less than 20% of their time working on the activity that they found most meaningful were significantly more likely to demonstrate burnout.5

In a relatively short time period, gastroenterology fellows are required to gather multiple new skill sets, including functioning as a consultant, performing endoscopic procedures, and potentially gaining formal training in clinical, basic, or translational research methods. During this same period, an intense phase of self-assessment should begin, with one critical aim of training being to identify those factors most likely to lead to a long, satisfying career. The growth that occurs during fellowship may allow for the identification of a career track that is likely to be the most rewarding, such as a career as a clinical investigator, clinician educator, or in clinical practice. Importantly, the trainee must decide which career track will most likely lead to self-fulfillment, even if the chosen path does not align with a mentor or advisor. Additionally, self-assessment also may aid in the identification of a niche that an individual finds most intellectually stimulating, which may lead to an area of research or clinical expertise.

While the demonstrated relationship between career fit and burnout is only an association without demonstrated causation, this does merit further consideration. For the first time in most trainees’ careers, the position after fellowship represents an opportunity to choose a job as opposed to going through a “match” process. Therefore, the trainee must strongly consider the factors that will ultimately lead to career satisfaction. If a large disconnect is present between self-identified career goals and the actual tasks required within daily workflow, this may lead to burnout relatively early in a career. Perhaps more importantly, if an individual did not perform adequate self-reflection when choosing a career path or did not receive effective guidance from career mentors, this also might lead to decreased career satisfaction, poor career fit, and an increased risk for burnout as an early-career gastroenterologist.


Next Article: