By Erin Schwarz, lecture by Megan Swartz
In January 2020, the Alliance announced that the winner of the Francis M. Maitland Memorial Mentorship Lecture and Award was my friend and colleague, Megan Swartz, CHCP. Her lecture at the San Francisco 2020 Annual Conference blended humor and inspiration for the audience. She started by explaining why she was surprised to win the award, quoting the song Once in a Lifetime by the Talking Heads, “And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?!” and continuing, saying, “I feel like I have so much to learn still … I have this big laundry list of things that I still want to do.”
Megan said she saw herself as similar to all of us in the audience, who probably do not realize the impact we have on each other every day. She noted that at her first job after college, working for a medical education company, “My big task was printing out confirmation letters and stuffing envelopes. I wasn’t sure at that point what any of it had to do with education. However … without those confirmation letters, the speaker wouldn’t show up, the learners wouldn’t get invited and patient care wouldn’t get impacted.” She reflects on this experience when a new member joins her team, explaining, “It is important to me that they understand their role, other’s roles and their impact on the larger system.” Megan helps team members see the meaning that underlies their sometimes-menial tasks and encourages them to connect the dots all the way to patient care.
Megan frankly stated that she had dealt with people she called “anti-mentors.” Her definition? “These are people whose mentoring style just doesn’t work with how I process things or maybe people that I didn’t really respect.” She encouraged the audience “to learn from these people as well … [and] to make sure to not incorporate the bad into the way you mentor.”
When she was thinking about writing her speech, Megan looked up the word mentor to get a list of synonyms. She says, “Some of them were adviser, coach, guide, instructor, teacher, trainer, tutor and counsellor. The interesting thing about these synonyms is that in life sometimes, you are the advisor, and sometimes, you are being advised. Sometimes, you are the coach ... and sometimes, you are being coached. Sometimes, you are the counselor or being consoled. All of these are wonderful learning opportunities, whether you are the advisor, advisee, coach, team member, counselor or student.” She then declared, “I think that is really it … you need to treat each interaction that you have as a learning opportunity, whether you are the mentor or being mentored.”
Megan described how she benefited from guidance and mentorship when the manager of the CME department at Cedars-Sinai, who was planning to step down, actively encouraged Megan to apply for the position. Megan says, “I honestly didn’t feel ready.” As I looked around the audience in that ballroom in San Francisco, I saw many heads nodding in empathy and understanding. Megan said, “After a lot of thought and nervous sleepless nights, I decided that I would seize the opportunity. I figured the devil you know is better than devil you don’t! In addition, I knew that it would be highly unlikely that the opportunity would present itself again soon.” She served as the manager from 2014–2018 and is now the associate director of the department of CME. Under her guidance, the program and the team have grown and thrived.
After she accepted the manager position, she still felt a bit out of her depth. Megan explained that, “One of the first and best things that I did for myself once I became the manager was to become involved in SCMEC. SCMEC is the Southern California Medical Education Council (SCMEC) and is regional organization for CME professionals in California … At the time, we didn’t have the opportunity both budget and time wise to be actively engaged in the Alliance. Basically, this was my way of finding some local mentors. This group of people really welcomed me and my team with open arms ... That interest sparked other interests and gave me more courage to engage with others in the CE space. I went on to work with my team to submit abstracts to Society for Academic Continuing Medical Education (SACME), the Alliance and the ACCME.” She also achieved the CHCP certification.
Megan concluded her talk by describing a conversation with a colleague, saying, “I was sharing with her my anxiety about giving this talk. She and I talked about how we both have this picture of what a mentor should be, or this image of one ‘big’ person who helps guide, teach and coach you. However, the truth is, there is not one person but many people. There are many people, many in this room, many in Los Angeles or in New York or in their home cities who have helped me in my career and life, and shaped me. Those people are not necessarily the executives in an organization or even my bosses, they are my team and colleagues that I get to interact with and learn from each day. Each time that I mentor or guide someone, I’m learning, too. You don’t need to find one person. You need to find opportunities to interact and engage with many people.”
She left the audience with a challenge: “Start small! Don’t try to take on the universe all at once. Do what is comfortable for you, increasing the awkwardness as you go.”
Even in this new age of social distancing and safety precautions, there are opportunities with the community of CE professionals to take up Megan’s recommendations. I have been attending the Hospital Section’s webinars and volunteered to be an abstract reviewer for the 2021 Alliance Annual Conference.
How will you heed Megan’s advice? How will you take on this challenge? Exploring volunteer opportunities with the Alliance is a great place to start.