Celebrating Women's History Month: A Look Into a Mentor/Mentee Relationship

Mar 23, 2023

A Conversation with Drs. Melissa Kirkwood and Jackie Babb:

Melissa Kirkwood, M.D., is an associate professor and department chief of the Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. She has been a faculty member at UT Southwestern for about 12 years, after completing a fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center back in 2011. In the five years that Vascular Surgery Fellow, Jacqueline Babb, MD has known Dr. Kirkwood, she has fallen in love with vascular under Dr. Kirkwood’s guidance. I had the pleasure to speak with them both as they shared their views on mentorship.

How long have you both known each other?

Babb: I met Dr. Kirkwood when I was rotating at Clemency University Hospital when I was a second-year general surgery resident and I was very lost in life at that time, both personally and professionally. Dr. Kirkwood guided me in figuring out who I am, who I wanted to be and how to build my career. I haven’t done a lot of vascular rotations, but we’ve always kept in touch. She’s helped me with research projects and helped me meet a lot of people in the field.

Kirkwood: It’s just been such a pleasure to see Jackie grow throughout her general surgery training to develop the confidence of such a well-trained dynamic surgeon and we were just so lucky to be able to retain her as our fellow. Jackie is at a different hospital site right now so we’re in withdrawal because she’s not in my service anymore.

What is the structure of your mentorship meetings?

Babb: It’s mostly a ‘come as you go’ schedule’. There’s been times where it’s been a month or so, but now it’s weekly at the very least. Back when I was in general surgery training, I wasn’t even in the same hospital as Dr. Kirkwood, so it was less frequent then, but now it’s a lot more frequent and I really appreciate that opportunity.

Kirkwood: All mentee/mentor relationships are not the same as they’re all so different. When I’m mentoring a general surgery resident, there’s more structure to it, such as meeting three or four times a year with a form we fill out. With Jackie, and with some of my special mentees that are really interested in vascular, it’s exactly as needed with an open-door kind of basis. In this changing world, you need to be able to reach out whenever. We do have some set times and we’ll be setting those up going forward, especially about job applications and things like that, but I always have my door open for any kind of clinical advice and especially life advice. It’s a hard field and we’re all going through it together and we’re stronger together. That’s the way I try to live by here in the university.

How has this mentorship impacted your careers?

Babb: Well, it basically created it. I would 100 percent not be a vascular surgeon had I not met Dr. Kirkwood. She’s shown me who I wanted to be as a person and as a professional. It’s a little stereotypical, but it’s difficult being a woman in vascular surgery, where it’s historically been a male dominated field. It was inspiring to me to see someone be the full picture of a vascular surgeon. Dr. Kirkwood has such a strong dedication to her patients, and so that really inspired me to go into vascular surgery. She taught me all the good things and every time I questioned what I wanted to do, Dr. Kirkwood would encourage me to look at different aspects of vascular surgery and would explain to me what her life was like and how it's changed.

Kirkwood: I think my mentorship with Jackie, as well as my relationship in mentorship with my other trainees, has really been a joy from my job. There are so many aspects of being a vascular surgeon and a chief of a division, but this is one of my favorites because we get to help build up and train the next generation of vascular surgeons. I try to impart them some wisdom and hopefully keep them from making the same mistakes we do. I’m always big on sharing my mistakes and pitfalls so that hopefully they can grow past me and us all to do amazing things in the future. It’s really a joy to be able to work with them and it’s one of the main reasons I wanted to stay in academics after all this time.

What is the value of importance that you put on mentorship relations?

Babb: I didn’t have any family members in medicine, and I had no clue what I was actually getting myself into. Most people go to medical school because they want to help people and that’s pretty much the extent of what I knew about medicine. I went to medical school and ultimately enjoyed my surgery rotations, but I think you can never truly know what you are getting yourself into when you become a surgeon. Mentorship in that aspect is extremely helpful to help guide you into your training and what your life is going to be like, and really help you reach your full potential. Dr. Kirkwood can see what people’s strengths are and really elevate them.

Kirkwood: Everybody needs a mentor. Everybody needs to have a vision in their mind of how they want to grow and learn. Sometimes, mentors are people you want to make sure you’re not like as that also serves as a good learning opportunity in life. It’s important for everyone to have someone that they look to that they’re inspired by and want to work towards. It’s about teaching the next generation by making sure our specialty, and the passion with which we care for patients, lives on in a beautiful way.

This Women’s History Month, honor your mentor through a special donation to the SVS Foundation. Your gift will acknowledge their impact on your career, while also supporting the mission of the Foundation. Gifts of $50 or more will be featured on SVS’ social media platforms.

To learn more about the SVS Mentor Match program and to participate as a mentor/mentee, visit Mentor Match on SVS Connect

Related Articles