The two recipients of the 2021 UW Medicine Award for Excellence in Mentoring Women Faculty do not take their roles as mentors lightly. Initially nominated by peers and current and former mentees for this honor, Abby Rosenberg, MD, MS, MA, and Tonya Palermo, PhD, were then chosen as the finalists by the Dean’s Standing Committee for Women in Medicine and Science.
Moving to Seattle in 2006 after graduating from Stanford University, Rosenberg is an associate professor of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at the UW School of Medicine and is director of the Palliative Care and Resilience Program at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute. She is also director of Pediatrics at the UW Cambia Palliative Care Center of Excellence, and director of Survivorship and Outcomes Research at the Seattle Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.
Palermo was recruited to Seattle in 2010 and is professor of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine at UW School of Medicine with adjunct appointments in Pediatrics and Psychiatry. Additionally, she holds the Hughes M. and Katherine Blake Endowed Professorship in Health Psychology. Palermo also serves as associate director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute.
After speaking with Rosenberg and Palermo about their passion for their work and research, and their dedication to their mentees, it comes as no surprise that they’ve been chosen to receive this honor. Both understand the positive and lasting impact that mentors can have on a mentee’s career (and life) — especially when it comes to supporting women and other marginalized communities.
Why is this type of mentorship important to you?
Rosenberg: When I started my research career and endeavoring to think about the merger of palliative care and outcomes science — there was almost nobody in the field, certainly in pediatrics, who was available to mentor. So early on, it felt hard to figure out how to create a team of people who could help me. I didn’t want anybody to ever have to search so hard for a mentor again.
Also, I want to help create parity and equity within our science and thought leaders, and that requires elevating women and folks who have previously been marginalized in academic medicine. Every single one of my mentees is a woman or identifies as underrepresented historically. I make it a priority to help them, and to make sure that their voices are heard.
Palermo: Mentorship was an essential part of my own career development as a clinician-scientist, and I have always been committed to pay it forward. I know firsthand the tremendous impact that a mentor’s words and actions can make — when you feel someone cares about you, values your work, has your best interests in mind, and is your biggest ally and supporter. Mentoring women is particularly important to me so that I can be a part of the solution to the barriers and inequities that women face in academic medicine by helping to create environments and systems that support, elevate and value women.
What motivated you to become a mentor?
Rosenberg: That gratitude for the people who did mentor me. I can’t say enough about how those people have changed my life.
Also, the best part of my week is the time I spend with my mentees. In fact, as I move into this next phase of my career, I’ve learned that the two things I love more than anything else in this academic world are mentoring and being innovative. What a great opportunity to be a research mentor because I get to do both! It is such a gift to be present with these brilliant early career people, these brilliant trainees, and to listen, learn and hear their ideas and help them think about their potential in this world.
Palermo: I was fortunate to have experiences early in my training with outstanding mentors. From them I learned valuable lessons about the importance of not only inspiring others to think creatively and ask innovative scientific questions but also the importance of building genuine relationships, learning and laughing together. I also discovered the value of having lifelong mentors, well beyond the end of one’s training. What has motivated me to continue as a mentor over the course of my career is that it is easily the most gratifying part of my job. I am simply awestruck by the achievements of my mentees and take great pleasure in being a part of their brilliant careers.
What hopes do you have for your mentees?
Rosenberg: I wish them all meaning and purpose in their work, whatever that is. I know that not all of them will love research the way I do, and that’s fine. I want people to feel like they are contributing and that they are valued. I want them all to be successful in however they define success. Sometimes people define their own success with a ceiling on it, especially when we’re talking about women and folks who have been historically marginalized — and for those people I hope that they break that ceiling. Because I think all of us have this unlimited potential if we just can imagine it. And it’s the imagination that sometimes needs a bit of a push.
Palermo: My hopes are that my mentees find passion and inspiration in their work, experience trust and support in their interactions with me, and are happy and satisfied in their careers and personal lives. While much of my own training with mentees is centered on developing a research career, I support my mentees in finding their own unique pathways.
What does this award mean to you?
Rosenberg: It’s so humbling and it’s such an honor to be recognized for something that means so much to me. And to feel that sense of being valued and recognized. The other thing that I think is so important about this award is that it recognizes people who champion mentoring woman. It recognizes people who champion elevating those voices who have been previously marginalized in our fields. We need to really, really work on making sure that other mentees and other mentors who do this kind of work are seen, heard and valued.
Palermo: This award is special to me because it represents my commitment to the careers and lives of the women who I’ve had the privilege to support over my career, and to the many women who I hope I can support in the future. I cherish the close friendships that I have developed with mentees and our long-term connections, which are significant and meaningful in my career.
Editor’s Note: Responses were lightly edited for length, clarity and style.
Photo caption: (From left to right) Abby Rosenberg and Tonya Palermo