Sponsorship, distinct from mentorship or coaching, involves advancing the careers of individuals by nominating them for roles, increasing the visibility of their work, or facilitating opportunities. Sponsorship can open doors and enhance diversity; however, achieving desirable outcomes requires equitable approaches to cultivating potential in sponsees and promoting their success. The evidence on equitable sponsorship practices has not been critically examined, and this special communication reviews the literature, highlighting best practices.
Sponsorship addresses an unmet need for supporting individuals who have historically been afforded fewer, less visible, or less effective opportunities for upward career mobility. Barriers to equitable sponsorship include the paucity of sponsors of underrepresented identity; smaller and underdeveloped networks among these sponsors; lack of transparent, intentional sponsorship processes; and structural inequities that are associated with recruitment, retention, and advancement of diverse individuals. Strategies to enhance equitable sponsorship are cross-functional, building on foundational principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion; patient safety and quality improvement; and insights from education and business. Equity, diversity, and inclusion principles inform training on implicit bias, cross-cultural communication, and intersectional mentoring. Practices inspired by patient safety and quality improvement emphasize continuously improving outreach to diverse candidates. Education and business insights emphasize minimizing cognitive errors, appreciating the bidirectional character of interactions, and ensuring that individuals are prepared for and supported in new roles. Collectively, these principles provide a framework for sponsorship. Persistent knowledge gaps are associated with timing, resources, and systems for sponsorship.
Conclusions and Relevance
The nascent literature on sponsorship is limited but draws on best practices from various disciplines and has potential to promote diversity within the profession. Strategies include developing systematic approaches, providing effective training, and supporting a culture of sponsorship. Future research is needed to define best practices for identifying sponsees, cultivating sponsors, tracking outcomes, and fostering longitudinal practices that are sustainable at local, regional, and national levels.
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CME Disclosure Statement: Unless noted, all individuals in control of content reported no relevant financial relationships. If applicable, all relevant financial relationships have been mitigated.
Accepted for Publication: March 12, 2023.
Published Online: May 4, 2023. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2023.0770
Corresponding Author: Michael J. Brenner, MD, University of Michigan Medical School, 1904 Taubman Center, 1500 E Medical Center Dr, Ann Arbor, MI 48108 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Author Contributions: Drs Farlow and Brenner had full access to all of the data in the study and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.
Concept and design: All authors.
Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: Farlow, Wamkpah, Brenner.
Drafting of the manuscript: Farlow, Wamkpah, Brenner.
Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Farlow, Francis, Bradford, Brenner.
Administrative, technical, or material support: Farlow, Francis.
Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.
Additional Information: The figures were created using icons from The Noun Project and artwork from https://slidesgo.com and https://www.freepik.com.
Credit Designation Statement: The American Medical Association designates this Journal-based CME activity activity for a maximum of 1.00 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s)™. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.
Successful completion of this CME activity, which includes participation in the evaluation component, enables the participant to earn up to:
It is the CME activity provider's responsibility to submit participant completion information to ACCME for the purpose of granting MOC credit.
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