Jump to Main Content


Linda J. Burns, MD: 1990 ASH Scholar

Linda J. Burns, MD
American Society of Hematology President - 2014
Vice President and Medical Director of Health Services Research
National Marrow Donor Program/Be The Match
Minneapolis, MN

On Choosing Hematology

I actually was a medical technologist. I was a biology major at the University of Missouri. I came to the university as a farm kid, loved science, and didn’t know what you could do for a job with a biology major. One of my best friends was doing this medical technology course, and it sounded interesting so I did that course. In the course, you rotated through the different clinical laboratories in a hospital. I loved the hematology laboratory and I took a job after the completion of college at the Hematology Laboratory at the University of Missouri. I just loved it so much. It was at that time I was exposed to a lot of the hematologists who were coming into the labs and having us work in their satellite clinics reviewing blood smears. One of the faculty members there became a mentor of mine and encouraged me to go to medical school to become a hematologist, and I never changed my mind. I loved it. The first time I looked at a blood smear I was fascinated.

On Receiving the Scholar Award

When I received the Scholar Award, I was so excited. To be recognized by ASH and for peer reviewed hematologists to have reviewed my work and to have thought that it was worthy of support was really phenomenal. I was really proud and honored.

Research Focus

Towards the end of my residency, during my fellowship, I was working on a hemoglobinopathy project; but my interest in transplantation had grown so much that when I began my research career I really moved more into looking at a very serious infection that affects bone marrow transplant patients, called cytomegalovirus, and how it interacts with the immune system. That was a project that I started towards the end of my fellowship and that I wanted to take on as part of my independent work. The Scholar Award was my first award for that independent work.

On Belonging to ASH

When you’re a fellow, just starting out in subspecialty, and you go to the American Society of Hematology annual meeting, there are all of these phenomenally smart people. They are up on the stage, presenting their work and their research, and the world seems so big. You don’t see how you will become a part of that because it seems so vast and everyone’s smarter than you. So, I think that receiving that Scholar Award from ASH, really kind of gave you a sense that you would be able to belong. That maybe you would have something to contribute and that you could do something in your own laboratory and contribute to the field. That was my first true feeling of connection – to think that someone would personally reach out to me and offer me support. I fell in love with ASH then and never looked back.

ASH supported me and I wanted in every aspect of my career, in anyway and anytime, to pay back. The money is one thing. It supports your research, it gets you started, and leads to more independent funding. But the award makes you personally feel connected to the Society and it’s hard to put a dollar amount on that.

It is pretty easy to see that folks who have received the award in earlier years have gone on to be superb researchers and mentors, and you see some of the more junior folks who may have worked with them. ASH has really created a foundation for a continuum for research and research support to junior investigators who have really built on the work that’s been done by those who came before them.