Training for a Career You Love: What Can the ASH Trainee Council Do For You?

Jennifer Saultz, DO
Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland

In your opinion, what are the biggest obstacles facing today’s trainees?

Securing funding to acquire the necessary protected time for research will be more difficult than ever, given the proposed cuts to National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding. It is difficult to find positions that support the research time necessary to achieve independent funding or expertise.

Simply put, completing a fellowship is not enough to be seen as an expert. It’s easy for trainees to focus on patient care and forget about prioritizing devoted time to research, but protected research time is essential for producing original research.

Based on your experience, what qualities should trainees look for in a mentor?

Mentorship can really make or break your early career. When looking for a mentor, choose one with a clear track record of success mentoring trainees at all levels – not just fellows, but residents and medical students, as well. This demonstrates that they truly prioritize and have a passion for trainee education.

Find someone you respect both personally and professionally because, ideally, you’ll be spending a lot of time with this person.

Ensure that the mentor is academically productive, well-published, and has secured funding in your area of interest. Also, make sure that you’ve spoken to other trainees about their experiences working with this mentor to see if it will be a good situation for you.

After you’ve selected your mentor, remember that mentoring is always a two-way street – you get out what you put in. Be proactive by establishing regular meetings to discuss career milestones and realistic goals.

What should trainees keep in mind as they sketch out their long-term career goals?

I can’t say this enough: Do what you love. During the early part of your career, focus on finding what that is. Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone and try something new. Try lab-based research, write a review, teach a class to medical students, or start a patient focus group. These experiences build character and shape your future.

Once you identify your focus, work to make that a career – whether it’s education, research, patient care, or advocacy. Imagine what your ideal job would be, then work to become the best-qualified person for that job.

Mentors can play an important role in helping you outline your ideal career and craft a focused career development plan. You need to work together to make a concrete plan for what it takes to achieve those goals – it’s easy to get caught up in the dreaming stage.

Are there areas you think aren’t emphasized enough during training?

I wish trainees were told that failure is okay and playing the long game is critical. Establishing your career is going to take time, so trainees should accept imperfect progress. If you work as hard as you can, you will make progress despite failures. Focus on your passion, realize where your deficiencies are, grow from your mistakes, and you will be successful.

Not obtaining funding or having a paper rejected is part of academics. People give up on academic careers – even if it’s their passion – and go into private practice because they had initial failures. When you see experts in the field receiving award after award, it’s easy to forget that, before their successes, they experienced failures.

Trainees are also often told that there is a dichotomy between research and clinical care, and doing too much of one will make you weaker in the other. From what I’ve seen, the most passionate and successful physicians do both and can do both well. I think that patient care actually fuels the best research.

ASH and other organizations offer training programs that provide education and mentoring for young researchers, like the ASH Clinical Research Training Institute and Translational Research Training in Hematology.

What resources does the ASH Trainee Council provide to members?

The basic goal of the ASH Trainee Council is to advocate for issues that affect trainees and create a forum in which to discuss trainees’ needs with the larger ASH community.

The Trainee Day at each ASH annual meeting is filled with a broad range of didactic lectures and small-group meetings focused on career development, mentoring, and obtaining funding. Outside of the annual meeting, the Trainee Council works to stay connected with trainees by providing career-development resources and a grant warehouse, which aggregates trainee opportunities in a user-friendly, searchable format. We also have the TrainE-News publication, which provides trainee-pertinent articles and board exam-style questions.

On a personal level, serving on the ASH Trainee Council has been a fantastic experience. The networking opportunities have allowed me to start projects with people outside of my institution, and learn about other programs throughout the nation. I encourage all trainees to get involved with ASH and be a voice for trainees by serving on our Trainee Council.