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Interview With 2016 ASH-AMFDP Recipient Rayne H. Rouce, MD

Dr. Rayne Rouce is an instructor in the Department of Pediatrics Section of Hematology-Oncology at the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy at Baylor and Texas Children's Hospital and at Texas Children’s Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. She received her medical degree and completed her residency in Pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Dr. Rouce completed the Fellowship Program in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at Texas Children’s Cancer Center. She is a long-time volunteer of The Periwinkle Foundation in Houston and one of two 2016 ASH-AMFDP recipients.

How does the research you’re currently working on tie into your research interests?

I am very grateful to be able to pursue research that directly affects the patients I treat. As a pediatric hematologist/oncologist with a focus in taking care of leukemia and lymphoma patients, I am constantly faced with the heartbreaking reality of patients who cannot be cured with standard treatment options. Because of ASH and the Harold Amos Foundation, I can now dedicate up to 75% of my efforts to developing new immunotherapeutic strategies to target refractory ALL and life-threatening viruses that cause significant mortality in patients who’ve undergone bone marrow transplant. I have dedicated the last few years to translating cellular therapy strategies that harness patients’ own immune systems to target their tumors, and the current project I am working on seeks to do just that.

What intrigues you most about hematology/oncology? Who or what encouraged you to pursue this subspecialty of medicine?

“Wow, a pediatric oncologist, how can you do that?” This is the most frequent response I get when I tell someone what I do. But honestly, without question - I have the best job in the world, and can’t imagine doing anything else. My initial interest in the field of pediatric hematology/oncology sparked from my experiences as a volunteer for The Rainbow Connection and The Periwinkle Foundation, both foundations dedicated to serving children and families affected by cancer and blood disorders. The relationships I made with the children I served, both newly diagnosed patients, and long-term survivors, were priceless. I also will never forget the faces or the names of those we lost along the way. I was intrigued by the impact of research on the field, and blown away by the differences in outcomes of leukemia between the 70’s and now. But if I had to say what inspires me most about the field it would have to be the resilience of the patients and their families. This is what encourages me to continue to strive to search for new, less toxic ways to cure the incurable.

You have volunteered for many years for The Periwinkle Foundation, which provides programs and events for young patients and families in Houston who are affected by cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. How has the volunteer work you are engaged in impacted the work you do as a pediatric oncologist/hematologist?

The Periwinkle Foundation has been a huge part of my life for the last 10 years. Our goal at the Periwinkle Foundation is to positively change the lives of children, siblings, and families affected with cancer and cared for at Texas Children’s Hospital. We do this through numerous programs, including a week-long summer camp (affectionately known as “The BEST week EVER” by the kiddos we serve), arts in medicine programs, outreach, and long-term survivor programs. My volunteer work with The Periwinkle Foundation has contributed to my abilities as a pediatric oncologist in more ways than I can ever express - I have seen first-hand the positive, life-changing effects camp has on the children I care for, and recognize the importance of laughter, fun, and the arts in healing. I’ve learned that taking care of the entire patient involves taking care of their health, but also their spirit, and that of their family as well.

What type of work did you do in Bolivia and what did you learn from that experience?

I have always been an avid volunteer, especially when it comes to underserved populations. For this reason, when I was awarded a scholarship to travel to Bolivia on a medical mission during medical school, I jumped at the opportunity to marry two of my greatest loves: service and medicine. I spent 6 weeks in a rural village in Bolivia, providing pediatric care to children and their families. This was a life-changing experience for me, because I learned the value of the physical exam when fancy medical tests are unavailable, and that the simplest of interventions could make the greatest of difference to those in need. I was struck by the sadness of preventable death from illnesses easily treated in more developed countries, but more importantly, the lessons I learned from the patients and doctors could not be taught in text books. This was an incomparable experience, one that I hope to relive, and share with others.

How important have mentors been to you throughout your medical journey? What advice would you give to a new medical student on finding the right mentor?

I cannot begin to put into words how important mentorship has been to my career development. I truly believe that I owe my success thus far to the amazing mentors who have guided me on my journey. From the first pediatric hematologist/oncologist I encountered as a medical student, who turned out to be the primary inspiration for my career path, to the amazing clinical and research mentors who cultivated my current career and research interests, I consider myself extremely lucky. I guess the best advice I would give to a medical student, resident or fellow searching for the perfect mentor is often, the perfect mentor finds you. What I mean is that based on our interests and personalities, we are often drawn to certain people. These people are often also drawn to us, and voila, a mentor-mentee relationship develops. Our job in the matter is to be open to advice and guidance, and soak it all up because a true mentor has so much to give.

What would you like for your professional legacy to be?

Wow, this is a hard one. I guess when I think about my legacy, I don’t really distinguish my personal and professional legacy. I want to make a difference, or die trying. I am grateful to have benefited from amazing medical training, and to now be able to pursue my research career with help from the ASH-AMFDP award. I’d like to one day say that I did my best to improve outcomes for pediatric hematologic malignancies, while preserving the ability of children to be just that, children.