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Vineet Chopra, MD, MSc, Sunita Sharma, MD, and Christine Jones, MD

Mentorship is a Mission: New CU Department of Medicine Programs Aim to Launch and Boost Careers

Chair Vineet Chopra, MD, MSc, and other department leaders are striving to grow and nurture a culture of mentoring: It's 'the lifeblood of an academic medical institution.'

minute read

Written by Mark Harden on April 3, 2024

It was 23 years ago that a young man – born in New Delhi, India; schooled in France, Egypt, and Japan; trained in medicine in Mumbai – came to America in hopes of launching his career.

 The prospect was daunting for an immigrant. “I was trying to figure out what U.S. health care was all about, how I could be a success story,” he says.

That’s when Vineet Chopra, MD, MSc, encountered a phenomenon that would become a touchstone of his professional life and a central mission of his tenure as chair of the University of Colorado Department of Medicine.

“People took me under their wing,” he says. “People took a chance. They said, ‘Hey, Vineet, we believe in you. But first focus on being a good doctor. That’s job No. 1.”

He was being mentored, and the guidance he received, then and later, would transform his career.

“Mentorship provided me with an environment where I was allowed to take measured risks, where I was given the support and correction that I needed, and where I was able to identify practices that allowed me to be successful in my own way,” he says.

Now, Chopra and other Department of Medicine leaders are striving to grow and nurture a culture of mentoring.

Last October, they organized a daylong “Mentorship Academy” on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, offering detailed guidance for both mentors and mentees. More than 240 individuals took part.

> Video: CU Department of Medicine’s Mentorship Academy 2023

They recently started a pilot program called Launch Teams, aimed at mentoring the department’s early-career faculty. And a parallel Boost Team project targeting mid-career faculty is under discussion.

“Mentorship is the lifeblood of an academic medical institution,” Chopra says. “It is the platform on which we create the best educators, researchers, and leaders. It is fundamentally how we support and care for one another. And it is a way of passing the baton to those who will come after us to advance the work that we’ve done. It means a lot to me.”

Launching and boosting

Other Department of Medicine leaders with key roles in fostering mentorship include Sunita Sharma, MD, who was appointed vice chair for faculty development and mentorship in 2022, and Christine Jones, MD, associate vice chair for mentorship.

They bring their own mentorship journeys.

Jones says she encountered Darren DeWalt, MD, MPH, during her research fellowship at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. “He was one of my first and best mentors, and I continue to reach out to him for guidance. He inspired me to mentor others throughout my career.”

“Finding a research mentor proved to be a challenging endeavor for me, and the approach I initially took is not one I would recommend to others,” Sharma says. “Reflecting on my own experience, I realized that a more thoughtful process around mentorship would have been highly beneficial.” With that experience in mind, she went on to help establish a national mentorship program within the American Thoracic Society aimed at under-represented minorities.

> CU Department of Medicine Mentorship Resources for Faculty and Staff

Now their paths are converging. Sharma and Jones are spearheading Launch Teams, a Department of Medicine pilot program that kicked off in January. Chopra and colleagues conceived and wrote about the program in a Harvard Business Review article. Sharma says it’s a program that could have helped her early in her career.

“The idea is to create a mentorship team for people who are new to the institution or new to a faculty position who are able to connect the faculty member with the mentors and resources needed to develop the career they envision for themselves, and help them to address barriers that they may face,” Sharma says.

Each Launch Team consists of the “launchee” – the junior faculty member being mentored – and four advisors, drawn from among the leaders of the Department of Medicine (chair, vice chairs, and others) as well as other CU School of Medicine departments and UCHealth; a division chief or designee; a senior faculty member of the launchee’s division with related interests; and a senior faculty member outside the launchee’s division or department.

The teams meet for one year – an hourlong meeting each quarter – with launchees engaging in readings, worksheets, and other exercises between meetings.

Mentor triptyck 2000 x 1000

Vineet Chopra, MD, MSc, chair of the CU Department of Medicine; Sunita Sharma, MD, vice chair for faculty development and mentorship; and Christine Jones, MD, associate vice chair for mentorship, speak at the department's daylong Mentorship Academy on Oct. 27, 2023. Photos by CU Productions.

Outside the chain of command

Various Department of Medicine divisions already have mentoring programs, and some junior faculty have their own informal mentoring networks in their fields. What’s different about the Launch Teams is that mentees meet regularly with leaders and senior faculty both inside and outside their divisions. Also, the goal is not to mentor someone longitudinally, but to accelerate their trajectory so they can find the right mentors, networks, and resources to help them succeed.

“Sometimes you need mentors outside of your division or department who can help bring an outsider’s perspective,” Jones says. “Our mission is to build teams that can support people. There might be someone on your team who you’ve not had the chance to work with before, and this is how we start broadening your network.”

Through Launch Teams, junior faculty can get help setting goals for their first faculty years, building rapport with senior faculty, and expanding their mentorship network. Depending on their field, launchees receive advice on building and managing their clinical practice, developing educational curriculum and research, writing grants, managing their time, gaining leadership skills, and compiling a portfolio for promotion.

The Launch Team pilot program has been started in three of the department’s divisions, “with the goal of scaling up in the near future,” Sharma says. “After making improvements based on the feedback we get from our pilot program, our plan is to be able to provide a launch team for every new faculty member in the department.”

Once the Launch Team program gets established, department leaders are discussing taking a similar mentoring approach with mid-career faculty by creating Boost Teams.

“Often, after people are promoted to associate professor, there’s a time when they’re recalibrating and trying to figure out the next chapter,” Jones says. “Maybe it’s somebody interested in getting into a leadership position, who had been previously focused on clinical work or research or academic work. At that stage you can sometimes feel unmoored, and you might need people who can help you understand what your options are and how you can grow within your academic community.”


Attendees listen to speakers at the CU Department of Medicine's daylong Mentorship Academy on Oct. 27, 2023. Photo by CU Productions.

Heartfelt mentorship moments

Through the early 2000s, after arriving in the United States from India, Chopra was a medical research assistant in Philadelphia, a resident in New York, and a medical director at a hospital in Arkansas. Then came another professional turn, and mentors again played a part.

“They said, ‘If you really think about the clinical care you deliver, you could touch 100 patients this week. But what if you could touch 1,000 patients?’ And I got very interested. How do you do that? How do you scale? And my mentors said, ‘One way to scale is by teaching doctors how to do that.’ So, great, how do I teach doctors? And they said, ‘Well, you’ve got to learn how to become an investigator. That path is treacherous and not everyone will make it. But if you’re game, let us take you under our wing and show you how to go about it.”

In 2008, Chopra joined the faculty at the University of Michigan School of Medicine, “and my most heartfelt mentorship moments happened with my mentors at Michigan. What mattered most to them was not whether the next grant or paper got accepted; it was that I was doing the things that I was most excited about, that I was producing high-quality work, and that as I had my first few successes in my career, I would think of bringing along those around me.”

Spurred by his mentors’ encouragement, Chopra pursued his interests in health-services research and leadership. He earned a master’s degree in health-services research at Michigan and joined leadership training programs at its business school. In 2017 he became the inaugural chief of Michigan’s newly created Division of Hospital Medicine in the Department of Medicine. This is where he helped create the original Mentorship Academy and put together models of mentorship for faculty.

Chopra has an infectious interest in the art and science of mentoring. He has studied the mechanics of mentoring, lectured and written papers about it in medical, social, and business journals, and in 2019 co-authored a book, “The Mentoring Guide,” with a mentor, Sanjay Saint, MD, MPH, and a mentee, Valerie Vaughn, MD, MS.

He brought that passion and experience to the CU School of Medicine in October 2021 when he became chair of the Department of Medicine.

“When I arrived here, I learned of a number of campus initiatives for supporting junior faculty growth. But, I saw that they were sporadic and weren’t necessarily aligned with a faculty member who had not yet figured out what they wanted to do,” Chopra says. “And so, under the leadership of Dr. Sharma and Dr. Jones, we started to think programmatically about how to develop junior faculty members in the department.”

Finding purpose

Jones says the department’s mentorship goals “are very on mission for me. I’m all in, to have a whole menu of programs we are starting and thinking about strategically throughout the career cycle. I’m excited to be a part of it.”

She mentions the department’s recent creation of the Clinical Excellence Society and the induction of the inaugural CES class as a form of mentorship – sponsorship – to recognize and celebrate top clinicians. Inductees will serve as mentors for others in the department on ways to develop clinical excellence, and on addressing such issues as faculty burnout, wellness, and equity.

Adds Sharma: “The part I love about my job is how I can help other people find purpose in their careers and be happy at work. Dr. Chopra has a vision for mentorship in our department, which I think is fundamental to helping people develop the careers they envision for themselves. I want to be part of that vision.”

Chopra hopes that creating a culture of mentoring will be a cornerstone of his tenure at CU Anschutz.

“Something I think about in being a chair of a department is, when I'm gone from here, what will be the legacy that I leave behind? If I leave behind the legacy of caring and mentoring, that’s a job well done in my mind.”

Photo at top: From left, Vineet Chopra, MD, MSc, chair of the CU Department of Medicine; Sunita Sharma, MD, vice chair for faculty development and mentorship; and Christine Jones, MD, associate vice chair for mentorship. Photo by Ken Mostek for the CU School of Medicine.

Avoiding Bad Mentors


Not all mentorship is good. In his speaking and writing, Vineet Chopra, MD, MSc, chair of medicine, sounds warning bells about what he calls “mentorship malpractice,” pointing up the need for both mentors and mentees to approach their relationship carefully.


It’s a topic he addressed at last fall’s Mentorship Academy on campus, and in his book, “The Mentoring Guide,” and a 2016 JAMA article, “Mentorship Malpractice.” Drawing on mentorship misdeeds he has observed across his career and those of others, he describes several “classic phenotypes” of poor mentorship:

  • The Hijacker, a bully who “takes hostage a mentee’s ideas, projects, or grants, labeling them as his or her own for self-gain.”
  • The Exploiter, who “torpedoes mentees’ success by saddling them with low-yield activities.”
  • The Possessor, whose priority is “domination of the mentee,” who in turn becomes “isolated from social and collegial interactions.”
  • The Bottleneck, who is “preoccupied with their own competing priorities and has neither the bandwidth nor the desire to attend to mentees.”
  • The Country Clubber, who “views mentorship as a ticket to popularity” and doesn’t take responsibility for mentoring.
  • The World Traveler, someone highly successful and sought after, leaving little time for mentees.

Chopra says mentees can protect themselves from such harmful relationships by avoiding chores with no academic yield that may be imposed by a mentor, setting boundaries in mentorship relationships, communicating needs clearly, and knowing when to walk away.


The best way to avoid bad mentors, he says, is to establish a mentorship team – people from different backgrounds, different skills and expertise, who form different relationships with the mentee.

“Having several mentors,” he says, “allows mentees to not only learn from each advisor, but also more easily recognize and call out dysfunction.”