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Penn Medicine Experts Offer Advice to the Next Generation of Innovators

leadership boot camp meeting

Penn has always been an institution that brings together bright minds. For one week in August, those bright minds included a group of high school students from Philadelphia.

Last month, Penn Medicine partnered with the Germination Project to host its Summer Leadership Boot Camp. The Germination Project, an organization dedicated to cultivating the talents and passions of young Philadelphians, invited high school students in its competitive Fellowship Program to virtually meet with a host of Penn Medicine’s accomplished and innovative faculty.

The 2021 Germination Project Fellows, 14 rising juniors, were selected after a careful application and interview process. During the Boot Camp, the Fellows connected with various leaders from Penn and the Philadelphia community to discuss the current state of industries and fields of sciences, and identify the roadblocks that need to be passed in order to solve a problem. Penn Medicine’s role was not only introducing this inspiring group of students to innovative difference-makers at Penn — with whom they may one day collaborate — but sharing with the students the future and potential of medicine.

The Germination Project aims to inspire students to give back to the community, and ultimately bring their talents back to the city of Philadelphia to further strengthen the city. The program also encourages students to pursue potential careers in science and medicine, while cultivating leadership skills.

For example, Anna Nguyen, now a senior at Penn, participated in the Germination Project’s boot camp as a Fellow in 2016. During the week, Nguyen and her peers heard from David C. Fajgenbaum, MD, MBA, MSc, an assistant professor of Translational Medicine & Human Genetics and director of the Center for Cytokine Storm Treatment & Laboratory in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Nguyen was inspired, and she has been volunteering with Fajgenbaum’s Castleman Disease Collaborative Network since 2017. What’s more, she aspires to become a physician one day.

“We want to inspire people at that young age and give them role models, like Dr. Bob Vonderheide and Kevin Mahoney, who have chosen to make their contribution in Philadelphia,” said Jack Ende, MD, an assistant vice president of the University of Pennsylvania Health System and the assistant dean for Advanced Medical Practice at the Perelman School of Medicine in the University of Pennsylvania. Ende has worked with the Germination Project’s founder Ajay Raju to drive Penn Medicine’s partnership in the Summer Leadership Boot Camp.

“Our mission as fellows is to serve and to lead through collaboration,” said Sarah Toth, a high school senior and 2020 Germination Project Fellow who assisted in planning this year’s Boot Camp. “The research and wisdom shared by Penn Medicine is a model and a call to action.”

Below, find just some of the advice Penn experts had for the next generation of leaders, scientists, and medical innovators.

Surround Yourself with Inspiration

“Whether you’re trying to strengthen a gigantic university health system or simply your career, you have to surround yourself with people who inspire you. That mentality has allowed us, during a particularly challenging time for health systems, to continue making scientific breakthroughs, expand our medical school and health system, attract talented students and professionals, and take on the largest capital project in Penn’s history. Find mentors and peers who encourage and motivate you.”

-Kevin Mahoney, chief executive officer of the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Innovate Through Collaboration

“One of the biggest lessons I've learned in my role in curriculum development is the importance of collaboration. During the pandemic, it's impossible to innovate without reaching out to my colleagues, students, and administrators. Listening to others, sharing ideas and hearing from people with a wide variety of ideas was the best thing we could do to innovate. This holds true for so many aspects of medical education and to being a successful physician."

-Nadia Bennett, MD, an associate professor of Clinical Medicine and the associate dean of Clinical and Health Systems Sciences Curriculum for the Perelman School of Medicine.

Don’t Fear Risks

“Medicine is challenging because it is often not without risk, especially when dealing with neurosurgery. When my colleagues and I began pioneering Deep Brain Stimulation, which changes electrical signals in order to keep unordered signals in check, there were risks like there are for any type of brain surgery. And I think this risk underscores the importance of conversing with patients and understanding what they want. Some patients are looking for anything that might make their quality of life just a little better. Others want a minimal approach. As clinicians and those in health care, we have to be understanding and help guide patients to what is best for each individual based on their health and their desires.”

-Gordon Baltuch, MD, PhD, a professor of Neurosurgery at Pennsylvania Hospital and the director of the Center for Functional and Restorative Neurosurgery.

Pushing the Boundaries of Prevention

“Trauma and emergency surgery is grouped into a category of reactive medicine. Where other areas like cardiology have spent a lot of time educating people on prevention, people think that trauma experts just have to take what happens. I don’t subscribe to that belief. I’m confident that the future of trauma medicine will largely include research and efforts aimed and understanding and preventing trauma before it happens.”

-Patrick Kim, MD, the vice-chief of the division of Traumatology, Surgical Critical Care and Emergency Surgery at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center and a professor of Clinical Surgery.

Medicine Has Opportunities for Everyone

“My advice is to keep your mind open to the potential opportunities in medicine and health care, particularly radiation oncology, as it’s a field that has something for everyone from patient care to engineering to research.”

-Michelle Alonso-Basanta, MD, PhD, an associate professor of Radiation Oncology.

Problems are Seeds of Inspiration

“When I was determining what I wanted to focus my research on, I started with identifying a problem which was that cancer can come back after surgery. Cancer comes back after surgery because sometimes surgeons do not remove all of it. They don’t always remove all of it because it can be hard to see. And then one night, I was in my child’s room where there were glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling. That’s when I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be great if surgeons could make tumors glow so they can ensure they are seeing and removing all of it?’ Fourteen years later, we have successfully made tumors glow, making it easier for surgeons to operate. If you spend the time thinking about problems and breaking them apart, innovative ideas will eventually emerge.”

-Sunil Singhal, MD, the William Maul Measey Professor in Surgical Research and the director of the Center for Precision Surgery in the Abramson Cancer Center.

Looking to Advance Medicine? Put People First.

“A large focus at the Abramson Cancer Center is on immunotherapy, where we look for ways that a person’s own body can be triggered to fight cancer itself. This focus on the individual is essential in immunotherapy but also in cancer care in general. Clinicians and surgeons don’t treat cancer. They treat people. One of the most important duties of future doctors is to remember that scientific and medical efforts must always revolve around the individual first. And I’m proud to be the director of a cancer center that does that.”  

-Robert Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, the director of the Abramson Cancer Center and the John H. Glick Abramson Cancer Center Professor.

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Views expressed are those of the author or other attributed individual and do not necessarily represent the official opinion of the related Department(s), University of Pennsylvania Health System (Penn Medicine), or the University of Pennsylvania, unless explicitly stated with the authority to do so.

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