Hematology or dermatology? Family medicine or anesthesiology? How does a medical student decide on a specialty?
There are probably as many paths as there are students, but receiving a prestigious national award will afford NEOMED College of Medicine student Kevin Dong hands-on experience that will help him make a choice. Dong is one of just five students nationally selected to receive the American Society of Hematology 2016 Physician-Scientist Career-Development Award. The $42,000 award is designed to help medical students gain experience in hematology research under the mentorship of an American Society of Hematology (ASH) member. The award helps to cover living and educational expenses over a one-year period, including the cost of attending the ASH national conference.
Dong was selected along with students from Yale School of Medicine, the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. “The list of winners is incredible, I’m not going to lie,’’ says Dong. “When I was getting ready to apply I was nervous.’’
During his first year of medical school, Dong attended events organized by NEOMED so that students can meet physicians representing many specialties and talk with them one-on- one (a bit like speed dating) to see what field might be a good fit. Through the year, Dong kept coming back to the idea of hematology/oncology.
Growing up as the child of two prostate cancer researchers, he had a natural interest in the two fields, which are related. (Hematology, explains Dong, is the study of blood-borne disease, while oncology is the study of solid tumors, or masses.) Hanging out in his dad’s lab at MD Anderson Cancer Research Center in Houston gave Dong his earliest exposure to the life of a researcher.
When Dong was in fourth grade, his family—which includes a younger sister who is also interested in medicine—moved to Cincinnati to work. Last summer, Dong worked as a researcher in acute myeloid leukemia for researcher H. Leighton Grimes, Ph.D., at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. “Dr. Grimes was irreplaceable. I’m so grateful to have worked for him,’’ says Dong.
When Dong begins his funded position in July, Dr. Grimes will be his research mentor, along with co-mentor Ashish Kumar, M.D., Ph.D., a hematology-oncology physician. “I wanted to find out if hematology or oncology was the life for me, and research is a huge part of both of those fields,’’ Dong says. Dong told Dr. Grimes that he wanted to shadow a physician at their hematology clinic as well as work in research, and Dr. Grimes set him up with Dr. Kumar.
“NEOMED does a great job of having us learn how to talk to patients,” says Dong. Experience in interviewing people playing the role of patients at NEOMED’s Wasson Center for Clinical Skills Training, Assessment and Scholarship has been invaluable. Still, he says, “No one can prepare you for how you are going to talk to oncology patients who have a low rate of survival. I don’t know if I’m cut out for that.’’
Kevin Dong is eager to walk in both a researcher’s and a physician’s shoes—and to enjoy being with his family in Cincinnati, beginning in July. For him, the ASH Award couldn’t be a better opportunity.