Recognizing trailblazers past, present, and future

Today we are nearing the end of Black History Month. If you follow our department on Facebook or Twitter, you may have seen the minute-long videos each weekday at noon that our digital media team produced and posted. All of the videos have been gathered under the hashtag #BlackHistoryInMedicine and they are also here as well. Each short tells the story of a legend in medicine from the recent or more distant past who made significant contributions to health care in the United States. I suspect that many might not have previously been aware of their extensive contributions. What these videos emphasize is the rich legacy of Black Americans to the fabric of medicine and to the communities that they served. Their passion, innovations in medical and surgical care, contributions to public health, and other discoveries were remarkable. They are examples of resilience and courage, whose life’s missions were not hampered by intolerable levels of discrimination and prejudice that they experienced. These men and women were physicians who often could find employment only in a handful of hospitals or had to establish their own private clinics. Some were researchers who had to leave this country to get the training they needed. But they persevered and we are all enriched because of their sacrifices. There is much work that remains to ensure that others like them will have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams as we work collectively to diversify the biomedical medical workforce. I am heartened by emerging leaders such as those within the organization Black Men in White Coats, who are seeking to turn the tide on the declining enrollment of black men in medicine, and by the new calls to identify mentors to ensure the success of those who are in our ranks, as articulated in a recent piece to which I contributed. The causes of human health, of science, of equality, of health equity and justice called those historic figures just as it calls us: to rise to the challenge, no matter how steep. Just as I said last month, we have a ways to go still before we get to the mountain top. I hope you will take some time to reflect on the contributions of our Black colleagues to this country and to medicine beyond the confines of this month.

Dedication to a vision has always animated great achievement as has the recognition that long journeys are made up of many steps. Our department’s commitment to increasing the number of physician-scientists in medicine took a big step this year with the receipt of an NHLBI R38. The StARR program at Iowa will be led by our own Dr. David Stoltz and by Dr. Paul McCray in Pediatrics. They understand as many of us do that integrating research and clinical care can increase the pace of discovery. Experiences at the bedside inspire benchwork just as easily as new discoveries in the lab can make their way into clinics. Dr. Stoltz’s leadership in the Physician-Scientist Training Pathway and Dr. Steven Lentz’s of the Medical Scientist Training Program have been boons, replenishing and sustaining the ranks of our physician-scientists. The R38 represents another avenue to expose our trainees to the breadth of research opportunities that take place throughout the Carver College of Medicine. The dedicated funding to support trainees while they get this intensive, focused immersion will pay dividends not only to the two residents a year who enter this program, but ultimately to academic medicine itself. We look forward to the work that those selected to begin later this year will eventually produce both in the short-term and in the years to come. I’m also grateful to the division representatives who participated in the residents’ noon conference to give overviews of departmental research opportunities available to all the residents. Well done, Chief Residents, on organizing these informative sessions! Recordings and copies of the presenters’ slides are available on their webpage.

Mentorship and support of emerging careers takes time, particularly in research, but the rewards always reveal themselves, especially in the success of our junior faculty. It was early in his tenure as an assistant professor in our Division of Hematology, Oncology and Bone and Marrow Transplantation that Dr. Yousef Zakharia developed an interest in Phase I clinical trials. At the time the UI’s Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center was launching anywhere between 5 and 10 new Phase I trials each year, sometimes spending as many as 6 months or more moving them through the regulatory process. But under the guidance and mentorship of Dr. Mo Milhem, Dr. Zakharia gained experience and ultimately expertise in the elements necessary to launch successful Phase I clinical trials. That experience allowed him to establish a working group within the HCCC that now specializes in launching Phase I trials at greater speed while still meeting the necessary regulations and safety protocols. As a result of this group’s efforts over the last year, the HCCC now has more than 40 Phase I trials running. A stunning increase like this has multiple factors contributing, but it is hard not to see that initial mentoring relationship between Drs. Milhem and Zakharia as being one of the most critical. Congratulations to all the members on this team as you continue to work to see just how high you can climb.

About E. Dale Abel, MD, PhD

E. Dale Abel, MD PhD Francois M. Abboud Chair in Internal Medicine John B. Stokes III Chair in Diabetes Research Chair, Department of Internal Medicine Director, Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center Director, Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism Professor of Medicine, Biochemistry and Biomedical Engineering

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