May 11, 2017
This month honors teaching excellence at McGovern Medical School. We do so by bestowing faculty honors to recognize our outstanding teachers and mentors. A highlight was last week’s Celebration of Teaching Excellence, honoring Drs. Don Molony, Tom Nguyen, Ronald “Chris” Mackenzie, Jennifer Swails, Michelle Barratt, and Dan Gombos, in addition to all of the recipients of our Dean’s Teaching Excellence Awards.
It is said that a great teacher can change a life. Nelson Mandela wrote, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” Each of us can remember a great teacher—someone who provided a listening ear, expertise, and wise counsel. Someone who took the time to care.
Mentors matter. Learn from them and with them and keep connected with them throughout your career. I’ve had the good fortune to have several extraordinary mentors—people who unselfishly guided me over many years; people with whom I continue to consult and continue to admire. Perhaps most importantly, they taught me what it means to be a mentor to others.
A few personal reflections:
I learned the importance of good and engaged mentors early in my life. I published my first paper, “The Surface Ultramicroscopy of Sickle Cells,” as a college student, working with Dr. Patricia Farnsworth, a Barnard professor of biology. I was particularly fortunate to have a woman as a mentor early on. Pat had boundless energy and worked very hard—at work and at home. Despite the many personal and professional challenges that women had at the time (and continue to address today), she taught by example that it was possible to mix a serious academic career with a serious engaged family life—and to do so with grace and elegance. I thank her and think about her to this day.
My chair during residency, Dr. Michael Katz, became a lifelong “fairy godfather,” giving both personal and professional advice, thinking about my career and nominating me for important committees long after I left training. I was particularly touched a few years ago when he asked me to write a chapter about him for the 150th anniversary celebration of his own medical school. I was honored to be asked and very anxious to write something that would be meaningful to someone who meant a lot to me.
I trained in neonatology because of a chance encounter with Dr. Al Brann—another lifelong mentor. Dr. Brann was a child neurologist who was troubled by the dismal outcome of newborns with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). He did research on HIE in primates and brought the new discipline of Neonatal- Perinatal Medicine to Emory and Atlanta in the mid-1970s. As a young trainee, I was mesmerized by Dr. Brann’s attention to detail, his interest in research to change care (an antecedent to the learning healthcare system of today), and his single-minded passion to improve the health and well-being of mothers and babies—a passion that continues to this day—in the United States and around the globe. Dr. Brann taught so much more than clinical medicine. He taught us to respect and pursue science, he taught us how to talk to parents in difficult situations, and he taught us the importance of the social determinants of health and disease.
During this month for recognizing teaching excellence, please take a moment to remember your great teachers and mentors. Write a note or call them—I’m sure that will brighten their day—and yours.