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Being a BFEF Mentor: Pathway To Fruitful, Ongoing Collaborations

Posted By Valerie Ross, Tuesday, November 8, 2016


"If you are interested in applying for the BFEF fellowship, the application can be found at the link here. You may also contact the fellowship director Kathryn Fraser at”

The job of residency behavioral scientist is complex. I was lucky to have had a mentor when I started. This was an unusual circumstance. Most behavioral scientists work alone and training is limited. For example, one of my colleagues was simply handed a box of old teaching files as his/her orientation to the job.


About 7 years ago I was offered a chance to be a small group mentor for a new program: the STFM Behavioral Science/Family Systems Fellowship Educator Fellowship (BFEF). I felt honored and excited, and wondered what would evolve. It turns out that agreeing to be part of this effort has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional life. The BFEF is a year-long mentorship program for new behavioral scientists.


Since it began, more than 100 behavioral scientists have gone through the BFEF program. Fellows are coached in groups of four by two seasoned faculty mentors: a family physician and a behavioral scientist. Groups meet in person at two conferences, and monthly through conference calls. Co-mentors strive to support each other, while creating a space for professional metamorphosis for the fellows.


I have now coached two groups of fellows. Each year when I meet the new fellows they talk about struggling to create a professional identity and understanding the intricacies of the job. Throughout the year together we celebrate successes, provide basic curricular resources, problem solve around professional challenges, and help fellows develop a scholarly project.


By the end, having been initiated into a group of creative and committed educators, fellows are more confident in their professional identities. The mentees’ trust, vulnerability and appreciation have helped me to become a better teacher and more confident in my abilities as well. My co-mentors have also taught me to be more skillful as a leader and facilitator.


Over the years the roles of mentee and mentor give way to that of colleagues and friends. I treasure my connection with this growing community of dedicated people who share the vision of a more integrated and humane medical system, aspire to lead, and are always willing to listen and share resources. We continue to evolve and grow together in ways we never imagined.

Valerie Ross MS, LMFT, has been Director of behavioral science for the University of Washington Family Medicine Residency since 2003. Her academic interests include: relationship centered care, narrative medicine, direct observation for training residents in patient centered skills and self-assessment, complexity in primary care, and mind-body medicine. Her professional writing has focused on narrative ideas, direct observation, and complexity care plans. Lately, she has been enjoying exploring the application of theater improvisation in medical training (medical improv). She loves spending time with family and her wonderful 6yo golden retriever, playing cello, practicing yoga and meditation, and hiking in the beautiful Northwest.

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