This year, Sally Mathias, MD, was promoted to associate professor of neurology. She shares the pivotal moments of mentorship that have helped her move forward in her career, as well as advice she has for early-career faculty and trainees in medicine.


Q: What is your specialty/area of expertise, and why did you choose it?

A: I am a neurologist, and I have further specialized in epilepsy. I particularly love epilepsy because I have witnessed and continue to see the stigma that is associated with the diagnosis of epilepsy, and how patient education, various treatment options (medications, surgery, neurostimulation), and reassurance can make a significant difference in a patient’s life.

I also enjoy treating patients across different age groups. I love the procedural exposure that comes with the specialty. I read EEGs that are of 20 minutes duration to those that go on for several days. I interpret intracranial EEGs and interrogate and program neurostimulators. There is never a dull moment as an epileptologist!

Q: Can you describe a moment when exceptional mentorship helped you achieve a career goal?

A: There are two instances recently that I can think of.

First was when my chairman, Dr. Larry Goldstein, and vice chair, Dr. Greg Jicha, believed in me and insisted that I apply for promotion. It was a very methodical and a well-planned out process. Several of my senior colleagues, Dr. Jessica Lee, Dr. Jay Avasarala, and Dr. John Slevin, reached out and offered help in the process, and this meant a lot to me. The UK College of Medicine Department of Neurology has an excellent mentorship program. I appreciate my mentors, Dr. Creed Pettigrew and Dr. Meriem Bensalem-Owen, who have prepared me for promotion for several years. They provided me with opportunities and reminded me of the goals, which prepared me for the task. I am truly grateful for the mentorship I have received and continue to at UK Neurology.

Second instance was when I was entrusted to take over as the chief of neurology at the VA. I had not expected for this opportunity to come my way this early in my career. I was quite surprised when my mentor and former VA chief of neurology, Dr. Pettigrew, explained the reasons why he wanted me to take on this role. Over the following nine months, I was provided with guidance on various fronts, different situations that would arise, and effective ways to navigate them.

Q: You were recently promoted. How did the UK College of Medicine help you in that process?

A: The UK College of Medicine, I believe, has a very streamlined process for faculty promotions. There are so many faculty promotion seminars that are conducted, which help the applicants understand this process. In addition, there are various workshops and programs for classroom teaching, mentorship, leadership. These not only help us become effective teachers, mentors, and leaders respectively, but also add a lot of value to our resume while applying for promotion. Also, there are regularly held faculty development sessions involving speakers from the UK College of Medicine, as well as invited speakers from outside UK. These sessions are high quality and give us a good understanding of everyday work around of academic physicians, prepare us for some challenging situations that may come along the way, and help us become effective academicians. I truly miss Dr. Michael Rowland, former associate dean for faculty development [who retired this year.] He was phenomenal in orchestrating these sessions and programs. He was always approachable for guidance and always so kind, which I truly appreciated.

Q: What are your career goals?

A: My daily goal is to be a better physician, teacher, mentor and leader today than I was yesterday. Long term, I would like to continue in my academic career trajectory to be promoted to full professor. In addition, I would like to explore more leadership opportunities in education as well as administration.

Q: What advice do you have for trainees and early-career faculty interested in pursuing medicine as a career?

A: To the trainees, my advice is very simple. Remember your purpose for pursuing medicine and fulfil that purpose every day you come to work. The main objective of medical training is to prepare yourself for independent practice, and that means there is a steep learning curve that happens during training. It may seem daunting, but take advantage of every opportunity to observe and learn from patients, colleagues, and attendings. Be curious, be enthusiastic, and remember to take care of yourself in the process.

For early-career faculty at the UK College of Medicine, I would start by saying that learning is eternal, no matter the specialty! In addition to fulfilling your purpose of doing medicine, take advantage of the various programs offered by the Office of Faculty Affairs and Development. Register for the sessions and apply to the various programs that UK has to offer. This will help immensely to prepare for a career in academic medicine. Also, volunteer in committees; be it local, regional or national, this will aid in building your professional network. Lastly, when chasing your dreams and reaching your goals, please remember to carve out time for yourself and your loved ones.