Advice From the Future

We asked innovators and mentors in hematology and oncology: What advice would you give to early-career hematologists? Here’s what they had to say!

Eduardo Sotomayor, MD

“I teach the ‘three Ps’: passion, positivity, and persistence. Any success I have had is attributable to following those principles.

Second, I share something I learned from Robert C. Gallo, MD, the scientist who co-discovered HIV. When I was a junior scientist in Lima, Peru, he told me, ‘Broad base, big focus.’ In other words, learn a lot. In my case, I focus on cancer immunology. However, to make an impact in that area, I need to have a broad understanding of what is happening in the entire field of immunology.

As a curious young scientist, it’s natural to want to do everything, but you need to focus on the area where you can advance the field, even marginally. And, as a leader, you need to strike a balance; you cannot kill innovation, but you want to guide scientists to their areas of strength.

Sometimes, of course, we can be biased. As we take on more leadership roles and become more senior, we may become dogmatic. Junior faculty might propose – in our opinions – crazy ideas. If the junior faculty is passionate, positive, and persistent, we can be proven wrong. As mentors, we can’t force them to change their passions or ignore their instincts.”

—Eduardo M. Sotomayor, MD, Director, GW Cancer Center, The George Washington University, Washington, DC

Hetty Carraway, MD

“The bottom line is to be passionate about what you’re doing, and, if you don’t love what you’re doing, you have the ability to change that.”

—Hetty Carraway, MD, MBA, Associate Professor, Director of Hematology Oncology Fellowship, Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute

Michael Linenberger, MD

“Great mentors offer valuable perspective. As you enter your career and try to find your niche in research or the clinical domain, you have to know yourself – what drives you and where your passions lie. If you want to go into academia, that passion has to be powerful enough to tolerate the disappointments of, say, having your manuscript rejected or being denied a grant opportunity. You have to continue to ask the probing questions, dig deeper, and take risks along the way.

On the practical side, I learned from my mentors that to be a good hematologist/oncologist you have to be an excellent clinician. My experiences as an orderly helped prepare me for that; I quickly realized the importance of communicating and connecting with patients and caregivers on a personal level, to have excellent bedside skills – from both the social and clinical side.

Also, versatility is vital. If a project doesn’t work out, you need to be able to troubleshoot and understand new ways to approach a problem. Patience is certainly important, but so is good mentorship and the humility to know when you need help. I would advise young hematologists to seek out individuals who can support you and offer honest advice – which means you have to be ready to accept constructive criticism.”

—Michael Linenberger, MD, Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology, Robert and Phyllis Henigson Endowed Chair in Hematology, and Director of the Hematology/Oncology Fellowship Program at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle

Ross Levine, MD

“Focus on what’s important, both scientifically and personally. There are plenty of things we can do in our scientific careers and in our lives that are hard to do, but that does not mean that they are all important. If we are going to put real effort into something, it should be toward a worthy goal.

Figuring out what’s important is an iterative process. Many people have given me this advice: Ask yourself on an annual basis, ‘What am I doing? What are the questions I am working on answering? What are the most important things to me, scientifically and personally?’ Over time, certain things become more important, and others become less important. When I ask myself these questions, I am always surprised how often the answers lead me to re-prioritize.”

—Ross Levine, MD, Laurence Joseph Dineen Chair in Leukemia Research and Director of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Center for Hematologic Malignancies in New York, New York

Charles Abrams, MD

“Don’t be afraid of criticism from your friends and colleagues; it can be constructive. The natural reaction is to recoil from it or get defensive, but I think it’s better to hear a problem from your friends and colleagues than from others. The trick is to be sure to listen to it.”

—Charles S. Abrams, MD, Professor of Medicine, Pathology, and Laboratory Medicine; Vice Chair for Research; and Chief Scientific Officer of the Department of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania; director of the Blood Center for Patient Care & Discovery at the University of Pennsylvania and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; 2016 President of the American Society of Hematology

Laura Michaelis, MD

“You shouldn’t be afraid to explore things outside of the traditional pathway to medicine – especially when you’re young. If you’re called to follow the straight and narrow path to medicine, that’s great; if you’re called to do a Fulbright scholarship somewhere or take a year off to learn a language or experiment with a different kind of research, that’s great, too.

Having richer, more diverse experiences will never hurt you in becoming a physician. It will help you better understand how to do your job and how you approach your work. For example, [as a reporter] I interviewed one doctor who took a year off from training and spent it designing cooking lessons and shopping lists for women’s shelters. She said it taught her how poverty affected life and health.

I never could have been a good doctor if I took the traditional path to medical school right out of college. I was young, and I didn’t know anything about people or myself at that point. I covered a wide variety of things as a reporter: from local government to Congress, from homicide and crime to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and public policy. When covering crime, especially in Chicago, I witnessed a lot of personal tragedy and the effects of crime, and it showed me a world I would otherwise have never seen. By the time I went to medical school, I had learned more about the world and had a different set of expectations. It was the right time for me to go.

So, my advice is that, if you’re drawn to experimenting, why not?

—Laura C. Michaelis, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and incoming editor of The Hematologist for 2018-2020