A “friendtorship” is an informal peer-mentor relationship between two people with shared interests but different careers. “Friendtorships” can help you develop new perspectives and ideas about your own field.
“I’d love to collaborate with you on making some videos . . . I feel like they end up being mostly for clinicians. Would love to hear your thoughts from the patient perspective.”—@DrJRubenstein to @TheLizArmy via Twitter direct message, May 9, 2019
Establishing formal relationships with mentors in academia and medicine is key to personal and professional growth. More recently, peer mentorship has been shown to be a great way for those at the same stages in their careers to learn from each other through co-learning and mutual support. But what do you do if your area of personal or professional interest is about exploring spaces outside the echo chamber of your own specialty or group? How do you find ways to connect with those different from you and learn from new voices?
A friendtorship is an informal peer mentor relationship between two people who work in different, but complementary domains. Friendtors connect primarily by shared interests and don’t need to have the same professional background or a previously formed personal connection and likely don’t work with the same group of colleagues. Similar to peer mentorship, friendtors set aside time to meet and talk about their work, share skills (co-learning), and discuss opportunities for professional or creative collaboration. Friendtor dyads might look like a social worker and a songwriter, a chaplain and a medical informaticist, or a clinician and a patient advocate.
We established a friendtorship via Twitter in the summer of 2019 focused on shared interests in palliative care, advance care planning, and patient-clinician communication. On paper this is where our similarities end. Liz is a patient advocate living with a malignant brain tumor, with a background in digital communication. She’s recently transitioned to a career in science communication and patient-informed research. Jared is a pediatric palliative care physician and educator practicing at an academic medical center. The resulting friendtorship over the last 18 months has focused on the intersection between creativity, medical education, and clinician-patient communication. For example, Jared solicited Liz’s feedback about creating videos about palliative care for a patient-facing audience: “We can help light the way.” Liz’s work involves crafting research dissemination communication strategies to reach clinician audiences. She shares works in progress with Jared to determine whether her ideas are striking the right tone or are tone deaf. Friendtors create a safe space for failure.
Here are 3 tips for starting, maintaining, and growing a productive friendtorship:
1. Find a friendtor—consider starting your search on social media.
Although other platforms may lend themselves to cultivating a quality friendtorship, Twitter is unique in that it flattens hierarchies and allows direct access and asynchronous communication between diverse groups of people, despite existing professional connections or geographic location.
2. Formalize the friendtorship.
A friendtorship is unorthodox by definition, but still requires the energy and effort of a more traditional mentorship. Our friendtorship has been expressly agreed upon—we both have buy-in and the friendtorship is reciprocal. We schedule regular one-hour formal Zoom check-ins. We set a loosely defined agenda and focus on sharing our work and getting feedback. We also help make connections to people the other person could benefit from meeting.
3. Nurture the friendtorship.
Unlike more traditional mentorships, there’s no playbook for a friendtorship and no institutional pressure will hold you and your friendtor accountable. It’s on both of you to keep it going, or reassess periodically and decide if you want to continue. We believe in the power of a frientorship to expand horizons and gain valuable perspectives outside your own field.
Do you have a friendtor? Tell us about your non-traditional mentorship experiences and what brought you together. If you don’t have a friendtor, now’s a great time to find one!