Mentorship and $10 Million in NIH Funding

Jerica Berge, PhD, MPH, LMFT of the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health (DFMCH) has a special connection to the late Carole J. Bland, PhD. The parallels—both professors, vice chairs for research and beloved mentors—are striking, but not surprising considering Dr. Bland was one of Dr. Berge’s mentors. Dr. Berge remembers that “Carole would meet with you personally to map out a career trajectory. Incremental, intentional, with the support  and sponsorship to get you there, all the while impressing upon you the importance of giving back.”

Dr. Berge takes the importance of giving back seriously. Her own mentoring efforts have made her the recipient of the 2022 Carole J. Bland Award for Outstanding Faculty Mentorship. In Dr. Bland’s memory, the award recognizes a faculty member who has served as an outstanding mentor to other faculty at the University of Minnesota Medical School and exemplifies Dr. Bland's gift and passion for mentoring others.

While reflecting on the honor, Dr. Berge passes on more of Dr. Bland’s advice, “Fresh perspectives from mentees equals better science. Mentoring is all about developing  relationships where the science can flourish.” 

She also describes how Dr. Bland and her other mentors framed mentoring on a continuum across the career life cycle. There are elements of coaching that focus on specific skills like grant writing and sponsorship—that guide career advancement and national recognition and longitudinal elements—that focus on development with a long-term commitment to advancing the mentee’s science and professional development all the way through their career life cycle.

This holistic approach to mentoring and being able to move across that career continuum encourages giving back while establishing equitable collaborations, Dr. Berge says. 

Dr. Berge thinks of mentorship as scaffolding that serves to support the mentee and leads to wellness across an academic career. Dr. Berge shares that “This way, you are able to recruit and retain faculty, encouraging wellness in an academic career and creating great science along the way.” It is this reaching back a few generations that plants the seed that grows into the life-cycle of equitable mentorship.

This coaching, sponsoring and broader mentoring approach help to establish clear roles in a mentoring relationship. As the mentor identifies the specific roles they will play in a mentee’s career, it can lead to a rewarding career-long relationship that not only promotes the mentee but also enriches your own career. 

Similarly, including mentees in public health research begins with building community partnerships around focus areas that matter to the community. “What would be the most important area of focus to your community?” Dr. Berge always asks. Long-term buy-in from the community begins with inclusive partnerships and mentoring early on. 

Asked to share part of her successful strategy of proposing grants that hold benefit for communities and mentees, Dr. Berge states, “First we think about the outcome—how are we addressing health equity? How can we bring everyone’s perspectives into this study? Apply for grants that allow for this inclusive approach, and add ancillary studies, too.”

Adding diversity supplements for undergraduates, graduates, and junior faculty to her existing grants is a key variable in this success for Dr. Berge. Through this approach, equitable mentorship ensues as she secures funds that allow research opportunities and resources for junior scientists to be a part of the larger work and to advance their own careers. 

A glance at the titles of her NIH grants shows the impacts of Dr. Berge’s work. Totaling nearly $10 million dollars, she received three R01 awards in 2022 alone.  This research aims to study health issues ranging from public and population health to individual and family health:

Each of these studies asks the primary question “How do we understand and achieve better outcomes while trying to understand and reduce health disparities around whole-person health?”

For Dr. Berge, the essential component to successful, equitable development is what the Carole J. Bland Award for Outstanding Faculty Mentorship is all about: to mentor people from all backgrounds, especially those who are underrepresented in medicine. By promoting this equity, including among gender-diverse and BIPOC faculty, Dr. Berge aims to elevate these leaders who have been underrepresented and, in turn, encourage equitable development at all leadership levels.

 

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