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How My Heart Failure/Transplant Fellowship Changed Me

When I started my Advanced Heart Failure/Transplant fellowship, my program director told me this year would change my life. I thought, “Yeah okay, whatever.” Boy, did that year change my life. The way I looked at the world changed entirely. Transplant is one of the most incredible medical therapies available to patients with end-stage heart, kidney, and liver disease, amongst others. Because of the generosity of the donor and the donor’s family, someone else is given a second chance at life. I always tell my heart transplant patients that they should now be celebrating 2 birthdays every year- to commemorate the gift of life given to them a second time over.

When I say that year changed my life, it truly did, and that change is lasting. When we’re on heart donor call and we’re evaluating hearts for suitability for our recipients, they’re usually younger hearts and cause of death is almost always unexpected. The stories are tragic- suicides, car accidents, freak accidents, and unintended drug overdoses, amongst other causes of death. As I sit in my pajamas (donor heart evaluations happen in the middle of the night a lot) on my laptop making sure I look through all personal and medical details available to me, I can’t help but create an image in my mind of who this donor is, what they may have looked like, where they worked, how much pain they must have been in if their death was intentional, and most gut-wrenching is all the people they left behind. Death is never easy, but when the donors are young, when the deaths are intentional, when the deaths are completely unexpected, it makes me realize how grateful we should be for this life we are living.

That year completely changed how I look at the world. No longer was I going to “sweat the small stuff” whether they were work related or personal. Every donor call reminds me that we sometimes spend so much time, energy, and emotions on things that, in the grand scheme of life, are truly insignificant. I became a happier and more content person. This year taught me that human connections are the most important thing in this world. My family, the friends I consider family, my friends at work, my patients, and all the people I cross paths with that have an impact on my life.

And on the other side of death, after I have pictured this life lost and the family and friends they’ve left behind, I get to tell one of our patients with end-stage heart failure that a heart “has become available” to them and now their life is going to change. I can’t imagine how they feel but I’ve heard all kinds of the emotions on the other end of that phone- tears, shock, anxious smiles that can be heard through the phone, and more tears. My patients tell me it’s a very emotional experience from the time they’re listing. Some have said it feels weird to be “waiting for someone to die” so that they can live. Some have noted guilt. Some of my patients have developed relationships with their donor’s families and I can only imagine how surreal that must feel.

What I do know is that I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else and that being a Transplant Cardiologist has truly changed my life. I am grateful to the patients who have allowed me to play a small role in their journey and forever grateful to the donors and their families for this incredible gift of life.

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Importance of Outreach

Peter Wagner MDThe Experimental Biology conference is here again! This year we donned on the wonderful city of Orlando, FL (April 6-10, 2019) where we fill the air with all topics physiology. Generally, we only look at the research portion of meetings/science, but what about the future generations that are to come up after us? The American Physiological Society has implemented initiatives to address that question. I spend my day following the PhUN (Understanding Physiology) sessions where undergraduate students presented their summer research projects and K-12 teachers learned how to incorporate physiology in the classroom.

During the PhUN session, there were about 50 outreach people presenting 25 posters. Some of the attendees made enlightening statements about the event. For example, Dr. Noah Marcus has participated in this event for several years, but since conferences can be a bit overwhelming and busy, he took a break from conferences but could not stay away. Dr. Marcus stated, “One interesting thing about PhUN week is that it does not only focused on the activities the scientist conducts in the classroom, but also how effective the lectures/labs are at the school the activities were conducted.” Furthermore, he suggests formulating partnerships with museums and local institutions. From a teacher’s perspective, Jane Schuster, a teacher from a local FL school system and Physiology Workshop for Life Science Teachers participant, had positive things to say about the Outreach program. Jane stated, “This program has assisted in obtaining connections from other teachers, how they get resources, as well as how to incorporate current research in the class instruction.” She was excited to report that her research professor to came to her classroom for PhUN week, leading to increased student enthusiasm in regard to how the sciences are used in the real world.

Pool with slideAs an Outreach Fellowship recipient from the APS and a vascular scientist, I participated in PhUN week at Sale Elementary School in Columbus. Being that PhUN week was focused on cardiovascular disease, I took a box of lab supplies out to the school to teach the students lab safety, how to collect primary cells, prepare them for slides, and view them under the microscope. I spent the last two days teaching how we use their classroom math in protocol formulation and subsequently writing techniques to summarize the findings. As serendipity would have it, the students were on a section that were easily translatable to what I prepared as talking points.

I would encourage people to do more outreach in schools. In these situations, scientists are preparing future generations of researchers, as well as training young learners to be prepared for what awaits them in college and the workplace. I have taught students from K-12, community college, university, and Adult Education to English as a Second Language, so I can say that seeing the students at different stages, one can appreciate the importance of supporting the educational process to take some of the burden off the instructors.

Quite a bit of my time has been spent preparing for this meeting and participating in K-12, but I will spend the last days of the meeting focusing more on vascular science. There is a lot of the APS Heart and Circulatory section that has a wide range of oral and poster sessions to cover, and I hope you all find news worthy.

Continue to follow me on Twitter for meeting highlights and post any comments or questions you may have. @AnberithaT

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Fellow Focus: Peer Mentorship Program

During my first year of general cardiology fellowship, our program underwent an exciting transition – our incoming fellowship class increased from 6 fellows the previous year to 10 fellows in my class, nearly doubling the size of the fellowship. This growth was necessitated by the welcome addition of the West LA VA as a rotation site for house staff, which meant spreading our fellowship across 4 different clinical sites. While this gives our fellows the opportunity to train in a wide variety of clinical settings with different patient populations and pathologies, it also creates a very large fellowship program, with 30 fellows altogether. Although there are advantages to having a large program, a program this size poses the risk that fellows ultimately may not get to build the camaraderie that many acknowledge is a pivotal aspect of their medical training. Indeed, much of the education received during clinical training occurs through our peers.

At the beginning of my chief fellowship year, my co-chiefs and I chose to implement a new program within our fellowship to promote peer mentorship among our fellows. Inspired by an outstanding JACC article describing a peer mentorship program that was instituted in Columbia University’s Pediatric Cardiology fellowship,1 we created a similar program in which “Houses” were formed consisting of one fellow from each class. Each House would be led by its senior 3rd year fellow, who would also choose a faculty mentor for the group (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Schematic representation of the House system. Each pillar represents one “House” consistent of 3 fellows and 1 faculty mentor. Adapted from Reference 1.

Each House was advised to meet at least once each quarter, with each meeting organized by the senior fellow. Meetings were suggested to be informal, but discussion items, such as research opportunities, balancing family and fellowship, and exploring career paths, were recommended. Further, senior fellows were encouraged to take ownership of mentoring their respective 1st year fellows, particularly during the first half of the year.

After surveying fellows before and after the implementation of the House program, the results of the program were rather impressive. For instance, prior to the program, only 44% (4/9) first-year fellows said a senior fellow helped them during an early-year overnight call. Post-implementation, this number improved to 100% (10/10 first-year fellows from the next class). Further, first-year fellows were asked to assess their satisfaction with “Peer Mentorship” within the fellowship, and these ratings improved significantly after the House program implementation (Figure 2).

Figure 2: First-year fellow satisfaction for peer mentorship within the fellowship program.

Many more aspects were assessed in these surveys, as well as in surveys given to senior fellows and faculty members. These included measures of feedback frequency given by senior fellows and faculty on conference presentations and measures of academic productivity (abstract submissions to national meetings, peer-reviewed publications). While many other factors besides the House program may have contributed to the improved scores we observed on these surveys (perhaps even a placebo effect), the feedback we received on this program from fellows and faculty were overwhelmingly positive. As the program is far from perfect, we have found that it was easy to implement, sustainable, and effective at improving fellow satisfaction with our training program. As it continues into its second year, we hope that it will continue to improve, and more importantly, that it will further improve the fellowship experience within our program.

This past weekend, I shared our experience with this peer mentorship program with others as a moderated poster abstract at ACC.19 in New Orleans, Louisiana.2 For other large training programs looking for methods to improve peer mentorship, we believe our House system was effective and would be happy to share more details from our experience with those who are interested.

 

References:

  1. Flyer JN and Joong AN. Improving Peer Mentorship: A Novel Fellow “House” Program. J Am Coll Cardiol. 68:2907-10. 2016
  2. Hsu JJ, Flyer JN, Joong A, Small A, Vampola S, Yang EH, Watson KE. House of Cards: Implementation of a Formal Peer Mentorship System in an Adult Cardiology Fellowship Program. American College of Cardiology, Cardiovascular Training Section, New Orleans, LA. March 2019