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Resources for Hematology Fellows

Attracting Talent to the Fascinating Field of Hematology

Outreach to medical students to recruit the best and the brightest to the vibrant and exciting field of hematology should be a component of our commitment as hematology fellows. The ASH Trainee Council recently adopted the charge to visit with internal medicine and pediatric interest groups to introduce them to opportunities in the field of hematology. In this issue of TraineE-News, we are requesting that fellows invest in the future of the field by contacting medical students or other trainees at their home institutions to enhance awareness about the discipline of hematology and to share insight regarding the daily life of the career hematologist.

We wondered, how exactly do medical students choose the specialty that will become their career? For some trainees, the decision is influenced by ballooning loans and a need to avoid bankruptcy before retirement. For the remaining majority, experiences on the wards in medical school and shadowing more experienced physicians allow them a glimpse into the future. It is clear that specialty choice is important and should be considered with some serious introspection. Below, a few hematologists share the experiences that influenced their decision to pursue the field.

"I would never have arrived here would it not have been for my truly inspirational friend from high school, Diana. Diana was 17 when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. It took her about four years to reach a durable and complete remission. Tragically, only four months after getting married, she was diagnosed with leukemia, which was a devastating side effect from the chemotherapy and radiation she had received as treatment for her lymphoma. She died at 24 only four months after the leukemia diagnosis. At that time, I made it my focus to develop new cancer therapies that would only kill the cancer cells and not cause bystander organ toxicity or the devastating outcome that Diana suffered. To do this, I have focused my career on immunotherapeutic approaches for patients with cancer. It has been an unbelievably exciting time to be a part of this ever-growing field of research and absolutely enables me to fulfill my life’s mission and my vision and to ensure that if my dear friend Diana were to be diagnosed with cancer today, that she would be able to live a long and productive life just as I hope for my daughters … Diana and Isabel."

-Catherine Bollard, MBChB, MD, director, Program for Cell Enhancement and Technologies for Immunotherapy; director, Immunology Initiative – Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC

"Without a doubt, like many pediatric hematologists of my generation, I was heavily influenced by Dr. Frank Oski, who was my first real mentor while I was a medical student. His encyclopedic knowledge of hematology and enthusiasm were infectious, and he knew every medical student who rotated through his department personally, including me. I still have early workups edited by his red pen. This early experience in hematology was cemented during my residency in Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins, where I was exposed to Dr. Zinkham, another brilliant hematologist and bedside clinician scientist. Both of these mentors encouraged my interests in hematology and taught me extensively. Ironically, Dr. Zinkham provided my entrée to the faculty and my scientific career at Johns Hopkins, where Dr. Oski later became my chairman. Without either of these early mentors, I would probably be a nephrologist!"

– James Casella, MD, professor, Pediatrics and Oncology; chief, Division of Pediatric Hematology; director, Basic and Translational Research Program and Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center; director, Comprehensive Hemophilia Treatment Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital, in Baltimore, MD

"When I was in the 5th grade a friend of mine died from leukemia. I was very affected by that experience and always wanted to learn about leukemia. In medical school, I helped take care of a child with ALL. She was a young girl (4 years old) who died from the disease. It seemed so unfair. I became driven to learn more about leukemia and to work to develop new treatments for this disease."

– David Poplack, MD, director, Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers; Elise C. Young Professor of Pediatric Oncology; deputy director, Dan L. Duncan Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas

As hematologists, we understand how incredible our field is. But for young scientists, medical students, and residents hematology may seem overly complex and perplexing. At first glance, the study of blood disorders and disease may not have the flash of heart surgery. But for a child depending on perfusion through a new artificial heart, the provider that fully understands the finer details of coagulation is as much a miracle worker as the cardiac surgeon who placed the device. We know that choosing hematology offers a unique opportunity to synthesize laboratory research directly with clinical care – whether it is through developing new drugs to alter the course of sickle cell disease or by designing platforms to sequence high-risk leukemias that influence therapy choices.

Without exposure to hematology, or hematologists, young investigators may never realize that this field could be a perfect fit for them. There has been much research performed on how medical students choose careers, but the bulk of these studies have been focused on recruiting physicians to primary-care jobs in rural areas that have a need for general practitioners. There are not much available data on how physicians choose one subspecialty over another. What is known is that decision-making is biased first by the background and values present prior to medical school matriculation. Then, exposure to specialty fields contributes to decision-making.

If you are familiar with an interest group at your home center, please forward the contact information to Joe Basso, ASH Training Manager, at [email protected].