At times, learners need specific mentoring to face particular challenges—maybe help with a dissertation, a research project, or studying for an exam. But a more general approach to mentoring, one that focuses on the whole person, can also make a crucial difference in student success.

Last year the College of Medicine LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee launched its own mentoring program to support LGBTQ+ students as they make their way as learners in health care. “Navigating the workplace as an LGBTQ+ community member is tough no matter what field you’re in,” says Brian Hamilton, MEd, director of diversity, equity, and inclusion. “But we recognize there are particular challenges for LGBTQ+ physicians and scientists.”

Brittany Bissell, PharmD, PhD, who practices in the pulmonary/medical intensive care unit at UK HealthCare and teaches in the College of Pharmacy, volunteered to be one of the first mentors in the program. A mentor in health care for six years, Dr. Bissell remembers signing up for the LGBTQ+ Mentorship Program as an easy process. “You just fill out a form on your background and interests, and then answer some simple questions about the role you’re interested in playing, and what your motivation for mentorship is.”

Her mentee, third-year medical student Taylor Bradley, who was herself a mentor to younger students in college, points out that they have much in common. “We both enjoy staying busy,” said Bradley of Dr. Bissell. “We’re people-oriented.”

Every mentor-mentee bond involves offering advice, some of it personal. But the LGBTQ+ Mentorship Program was designed to address specific needs which DEI director Hamilton characterizes as “not formally tied to academic and professional success.”

Bradley specifies some of the challenges LGBTQ+ mentors and mentees discuss. “You talk about things that are difficult to bring up. How to navigate being out during medical education. How to be comfortable with people you’re working with.”

The results of such mentoring can be life-changing. “I’ve seen the impact,” Dr. Bissell said. “We as a society do better when we support each other and provide relationships that support, uplift, and provide a pathway.”

This year, Bradley is taking on the important responsibility of the LGBTQ+ mentor-mentee matching process. To potential mentors, she says, “Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Remember the more transparent you are about difficulties you’ve faced, the more helpful you can be.” To mentees, Bradley says “Reach out. People are happy to help. Don’t be afraid.”

This story was featured in the Winter 2023 edition of UK Medicine magazine. To read the full issue, click here.