Deborah Grady Wins 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award in Mentorship

Deborah Grady, MD, MPH, shares a moment with Vice Provost of Academic Affairs Brian Alldredge, PharmD, and Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS, during a June 30 reception held in her honor at the UCSF Kalmanovitz Library. Photo by Susan Merrell

By Leland Kim on August 06, 2014

The term “mentorship” wasn’t part of the health care lexicon when Deborah Grady, MD, MPH, graduated from medical school back in 1980. And the landscape of medicine looked very different back then: Less than a third of medical school graduates were women and very few held leadership positions.

Virginia Ernster, PhD, pictured at this year's Alumni Weekend festivities, was one of Deborah Grady's first mentors. Photo by Carmen Holt

Grady credits Virginia Ernster, PhD, former chair of the UCSF Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics, for cultivating a love and appreciation of mentorship.

“Virginia was a fantastic mentor to me. She gave me great advice in both research and career development,” said Grady, interim director of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) and associate dean for Clinical and Translational Research in the Schools of Medicine and Nursing. “Those lessons and advice have stayed with me over the years.”

Grady feels fortunate to have had great mentors early in her career. Not all of her mentors share her gender, though coincidentally many share the same first name.

“I had some great male mentors, too,” Grady said. “The person who followed Virginia as chair of epidemiology, Steve Hulley, was a great mentor to me. I still talk with him to this day, and other folks in general medicine such as Steve Cummings, Steve McPhee and Steve Schroeder were also wonderful mentors.”

Paying It Forward

Grady has taken lessons from her mentors and applied them to a growing crop of mentees she has helped shape over the years. Her success in cultivating young talent has led to her winning the Lifetime Achievement Award in Mentorship this year.

Deborah Grady, MD, MPH, far left, laughs with her colleagues, from left, Janice Schwartz, MD, Alka Kanaya, MD, Nancy Milliken, MD, and Jeanette Brown, MD. Photo by Susan Merrell

“I do it because it’s fun. It’s just fun,” Grady said. “It also broadens my clinical and research perspectives. I work with people doing different kinds of research, sometimes tangential to my main area of research, but I learn a lot about conditions, illnesses and treatments that I otherwise would not know about.”

The Faculty Mentoring Program and the award – now in its seventh year – are part of the Campus Council on Faculty Life (CCFL).

“We’ve built a program that has become a national model,” said Mitchell D. Feldman, MD, MPhil, professor of medicine and associate vice provost for faculty mentoring at UCSF. “And many other academic medical centers have created mentoring programs inspired by what we have done here at UCSF.”

To Grady, mentorship is not gender-specific or even department-specific. Over the years, she has mentored more than 40 young researchers at UCSF.

“I think there’s something to be said about women having women mentors, but probably more to be said for ethnic mentors,” she said. “It’s important for underrepresented minority faculty to at least have some guidance from someone who has an understanding of some of the issues unique to that experience.”

Cultivating Future Leaders

Grady has run many faculty development programs that have included trainees from various disciplines such as neurology, radiology, psychiatry and gynecology, giving her exposure to a wide cross-section of the UCSF clinical enterprise.

“I have mentees from all over the place, and a large number of them are still at UCSF and in important leadership roles,” she said. “So it’s nice to interact with people you have a longstanding relationship with who are now leaders of all kinds of things.”

Among the people Grady has mentored include Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, MD, PhD; Michael Schlipak, MD, MPH; Kristine Yaffe, MD; and Jeannette Brown, MD; all of whom have risen to leadership roles at UCSF.

If you’re going to be a consistent mentor over many years, you have to love doing it. And it’s pretty easy to be good at something you love to do."

Deborah Grady, MD, MPH

“One of the keys to being a successful mentor is to pick mentees who are going to be highly successful,” Grady said with a laugh. “If you’re going to be a consistent mentor over many years, you have to love doing it. And it’s pretty easy to be good at something you love to do.”

Grady has very specific requirements for potential mentees. She looks for proactive individuals who can make their own connections and those who have clear, passionate ideas. She also prefers to work with those who have specific questions about health care that they have a deep interest in answering. Grady subscribes to the philosophy of work-life balance in her career as well as the careers of her mentees. She also wants to work with those who can write well.

“Our job is all about writing and to some degree speaking well, but writing for sure,” she said. “A big portion of our time is spent writing grants and papers. If you can write elegantly, you’re going to be much more successful than people who can’t.”

Deborah Grady, MD, MPH, center, poses for a photograph with, from left, Mitchell Feldman, MD, MPhil, associate vice provost for Faculty Mentoring; Brian Alldredge, PharmD, vice provost of Academic Affairs; Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS; and Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, MD, PhD, director of the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations at San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. Photo by Susan Merrell

Dispensing Mentorship Advice

Grady has seen an evolution in terms of how mentorship is perceived at UCSF. She believes the formation of a structure around mentorship has led to a growing number of trainees and younger faculty members who have mentors.

“My advice would be not to hang your hat on one mentor because the help a young faculty member needs in terms of doing the right sorts of things, clinically, in research, and at the institutional, state and national level may need different types of advice,” Grady said. “Most people need advice from a couple of different directions.”