Janis L. Abkowitz, MD
“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”
This quote is attributed to Plutarch (born 46 A.D.) as a variant translation of his statements in On Listening to Lectures. Plutarch was a Greek historian, biographer, and essayist and an excellent observer of societal values. To me, this metaphor captures the pragmatics of mentorship: the why we mentor and how we mentor.
Mentors were critical to my career success. My mentors shared their excitement about hematology with me but, more importantly, encouraged and believed in me, even when the path ahead was muddled or difficult to navigate. At our annual meeting this past December, both Drs. Tim Ley, 2012 E. Donnall Thomas lecturer, and Jim George, 2012 Wallace H. Coulter Lifetime Achievement recipient, credited mentors for their successes. As most members feel similarly about their mentors, supporting mentorship is and should be a core mission of ASH.
In 2003, Drs. Jim George and Bev Mitchell helped establish and co-directed ASH’s first Clinical Research Training Institute (CRTI) for fellows and junior faculty interested in patient-directed research or outcome studies. Then and in each subsequent year, 20 trainees and 20 faculty mentors participate in an intense week-long program that combines lectures with small group sessions that refine the participant’s clinical research protocol. Each participant is assigned a faculty mentor and mentorship continues throughout the year and often longer. A recent evaluation of the program revealed that nearly 90 percent of CRTI graduates were active clinical investigators and some early trainees had tenured faculty positions. The vast majority felt that the CTRI experience was an important contributor to their career success and that mentorship and the active networking that developed among participants were the reasons for this. As former trainees now return as enthusiastic mentors, the program’s ongoing success is secure.
Building on the success of this mentorship effort, ASH, in conjunction with the European Hematology Association, established a program for Translational Research Training in Hematology (TRTH) in 2010. And this year, in association with the Highlights of ASH® in Latin America (HOA-LA) meeting in Santiago, Chile, ASH will host a one-day workshop on clinical investigation strategies. Each program has a different focus to fit different needs and each has metrics for expected accomplishments that will be prospectively evaluated. TRTH is a yearlong program that is formatted like CRTI but focuses on translational research as well as academic career development. The HOA-LA workshop will target hematology faculty members, not trainees, with the intent of improving the infrastructure for clinical hematology research in Latin America by strengthening the skills of established faculty. However, key to both programs is establishing one-to-one connections between instructor and participant and the concept that mentorship will empower (kindle) the next generation of investigators.
Similarly, ASH’s Minority Medical Student Award Program (MMSAP), an eight- to 12-week research experience for first- or second-year medical students, prioritizes mentorship by pairing each participant with an ASH member who serves as a career-development advisor during medical school and residency. In addition, ASH supports underrepresented minority junior faculty hematologists through the partnership with the Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and thus partners with this extraordinarily successful mentorship effort.
ASH also highlights mentorship each year when awarding the ASH Mentor Award to one basic scientist and one clinician. These awards were established in response to a proposal by the hematology fellows of ASH’s Trainee Council in 2004 and annually remind us that it is the quality of mentoring relationships that counts – being trustworthy and honest, but not judgmental; having time to talk; and providing insight into work-life balance.
As colleagues we also mentor each other. ASH facilitates this with programs such as Consult-a-Colleague. Last year more than 50 volunteers who are at the top of their field provided insights to 421 clinical queries from colleagues. Less formal mentorship also abounds. Most importantly, the annual meeting provides an ideal opportunity to make and renew our one-to-one connections, and the fire, once kindled, is thus sustained.
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