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Celebrate 50 Years with Us

Many years, many mentors

Dr. Kara Laing

"I met Dr. Kara Laing, medical oncologist, when I was a medical student. She was my clinical skills preceptor. I was so inspired by her gentle bedside manner and depth of knowledge that I decided to pursue an internal medicine residency and then subspecialty training in medical oncology.

Throughout my undergraduate and postgraduate training, Dr. Laing provided me with guidance, support and friendship. She was my research supervisor and introduced me to the cancer care team here at the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Centre. Now, as colleagues in medical oncology, we work together on a daily basis. Dr. Laing is my discipline chair and was instrumental in securing Royal College approval to start a Medical Oncology Training Program here at Memorial. She continues to mentor and support me as well as many medical students, residents and colleagues."

-Dr. Erin Powell

Photo: Dr. Laing and Dr. Powell at the International Conference on Residency Education in September 2016

Dr. Jack Hand

I worked with Jack first as a medical student, then later as a pediatric resident at the Janeway. He was larger than life- so admired, respected and loved by physicians, nurses and most definitely by patients and families. Everyone, really. Jack taught me the role of physician as leader- how a good leader raises the practice of an entire team. He brought humour alongside compassion. Grace melded with intelligence. Wisdom and kindness above all. He treated me with more respect than I deserved, but that was how he treated everyone. Jack took me aside when I personally struggled with a dying patient. He showed empathy, but also respectfully challenged me to self reflect on how to balance the grief experienced at work with our lives as humans who practice medicine.
Jack gave me guidance and advocated for me as I applied for subspecialty training in pediatric hematology/oncology. He celebrated with me when I, too, left for the University of British Columbia, just as he had done years earlier. We sang "Sweet Caroline" at a Neil Diamond concert. I was so proud to introduce him to my fiancée, Nikki. He and his wife, Tina, made the long trip to our wedding. My daughter and I made the long trip to his funeral.
I now work as a pediatric hematologist/oncologist in Calgary. We are doing great work using bone marrow transplants to cure sickle cell disease. We collaborate in Uganda and Kenya, advancing care for children with blood disorders and cancer. I tell you this only to emphasize the butterfly effect Jack has had around the world. Many others can tell you how Jack changed their careers and lives for the better.
Jack Hand was a physician in the truest and most noble sense of this sacred role. I am grateful for his mentorship and friendship every day.
-Gregory M.T. Guilcher MD, FRCPC, FAAP

Photo: Dr. Jack Hand

Dr. Laura Gillespie

I was 18 when I initially met Dr. Laura Gillespie. I had been fortunate enough that year to earn a summer studentship. These studentships, based on academic excellence and interest, were summer employment opportunities working in basic sciences with laboratory scientists. The intent was to learn scientific methods/processes. Fortunately for me, I was paired with Dr. Gillespie in the Terry Fox Cancer Research Lab.

I had a keen interest in molecular biology and she fostered this while adding oncology basic science and embryology interests as we worked on Xenopus embryos. I had an amazing experience. Through Drs Gillespie and Paterno, I became an independent “junior basic scientist."

I learned how to devise a scientific question, develop a series of experiments to answer the question and how to write up the results. Her passion and knowledge of cell and cancer molecular biology, as well as expertise in embryology were shared with me daily. She allowed me the freedom to improve my skills and encouraged independent scientific thought. We discussed my career goals and I continued to work with her for several summers.

During the second year, while we were discussing a masters leading to PhD similar to her career path, she asked me if I had considered applying to medicine at Memorial University. An MD-PhD program was available at MUN and she strongly encouraged me to apply. She believed a would be a good fit and explained to me why this made sense. At first, I did not have the confidence to apply but after several weeks discussing this, I trusted her belief in my abilities enough to complete an application.

I was delighted to be accepted to start medical school at MUN in 1992 and I have Dr. Gillespie to thank for this. I continued to work with her throughout medical school and ultimately decided upon a specialty in medical oncology, rather than an MD-PhD,  as my work in her lab sparked a desire to learn more about the cancer cell, how it develops, and how we can use this information to develop better cancer treatments. Upon my return to Newfoundland in 2001, I began work in clinical trials and took on many students to mentor research projects.

Dr. Gillespie and I eventually reconnected  and are currently collaborating on a research study involving MIER1 and DCIS in breast cancer. Dr. Gillespie is an outstanding mentor who helped shaped my love of learning and treating cancer patients. Her patience, kindness and support over the years are greatly appreciated.
-Dr. Joy McCarthy,MD FRCPC
Division Chief, Medical Oncology
Clinical associate professor
Cancer Care Program, Eastern Health

Photo: Drs Laura Gillespie and Joy McCarthy

Dr. Michael Grant

How do you define a mentor? Is it someone who methodically supervises your research project while you’re under their tutelage? Is it someone who helps you plan your subsequent training and career path? Does a mentor provide guidance even after you’ve finished your degree with them? Do they manage to find the perfect balance between effective mentoring and concern for you as a person? Do they provide you with valuable and invested mentorship for the rest of their life? The answer is, a true mentor does all of these things, and that is exactly the kind of mentorship I received, and still receive, from Dr. Michael Grant, professor of immunology, Division of BioMedical Sciences.
Mike supervised me during my master’s project (1997-99), and he’s been my sounding board ever since. He urged me to broaden my training from the HIV immunology he taught me during my MSc. to include fundamental HIV virology during my PhD at McGill (99-04). And it was based on Mike’s advice that I got into HCV research during my postdoctoral training (04-08), which ultimately landed me a position back at Memorial within the Faculty of Medicine (08-present). As testament to this letter, while I was writing it Mike walked into my office to discuss a new project of his, and we ended up also spending time discussing the potential of a new project I have recently started. Mike’s devotion to being an outstanding mentor has created a legacy of devotion to mentorship. It is because of his continued guidance and support that I feel compelled to be the best mentor I can possibly be for my own trainees. I’ve had other supervisors since I was in Mike’s lab, but my most trusted mentor will always be my first one.
-Dr. Rod Russell, Associate Professor of immunology and virology, Division of BioMedical Sciences

Photo: Drs Rod Russell and Michael Grant with Dr. Hassan Kofahi, their most recently co-supervised graduate student, receiving the “Best Overall Student Research Presentation” at the 2013 Immunology and Infectious Diseases Graduate Student Forum. Hassan completed his PhD in 2016 and is now an Assistant Professor in his home country of Jordan.

Dr. Mohamed Ravalia

Rarely in a lifetime do we get the opportunity to meet the mentor that will, so quickly and unassumingly, change our lives forever. Rarely do we get the chance to learn from someone who, with an air of brilliance, can make the most complex of concepts simple. Rarely in life can we pinpoint the person who has changed our whole outlook on humanity. Luckily for me, I met them in my first year of medical school when I was introduced to Dr. Mohamed Ravalia.
As a medical student I have worked with Dr. Ravalia in his clinic, on research, and in volunteer groups. As I shadowed his clinics and began to immerse myself in the world of clinical medicine, I got to see Dr. Ravalia in action. I remember distinctly the first patient encounter I had with “Ravs” as his patients call him. “Hows ya getting on da’day Ravs by?” the patient muttered; too fast for anyone not from “the bay” to understand, I thought. Quickly, the man from Zimbabwe, who is as poetic as Shakespeare, and as eloquent as Dr. King himself, turned into the physician that was straight from the outport town of Twillingate. Complete with a head nod, a quick wink, and a “best kind, me son” Dr. Ravalia was indeed a rural Newfoundlander. I was in awe of this, but not surprised. Since I have known Dr. Ravalia he has done this in any situation. Adapted.  
Dr. Ravalia holds the mirror that reflects what all human beings envision for a better and equal society. He is a mentor, he is a teacher, he is an advocate, he is an academic, he is a friend, but most importantly, he is all these things to all people. 
When describing someone so influential the question arises: Where do I stop? The truth is, I shouldn’t. I shouldn’t stop striving to be a better clinician; to continually learn for my patients, just as Dr. Ravalia has. I shouldn’t stop advocating for rural Newfoundland and Labrador; to continually strive for equity for all, just as Dr. Ravalia has. I shouldn’t stop sticking up my hand and participating as my community flourishes; to make our society better, just as Dr. Ravalia has. Not only has he instilled this sense in me, but he has done so to everyone he meets.
Thank you, Ravs. For being a mentor to me and so many others!
 -Desmond Whalen
Photo: Chelsea Harris (current third year medical student), Dr. Mohamed Ravalia, and Desmond Whalen (current fourth year medical student) in Dubrovnik, Croatia at the WONCA World Rural Conference in 2015.

Dr. Michiru Hirasawa

In 2011, I completed a PhD in neuroscience under the supervision of Dr. Michiru Hirasawa (left). During this time, Michiru truly revealed to me what it takes to be a great mentor. While I knew that she would be there for me whenever necessary, Michiru gave me plenty of space to develop my own independent research skills and went to great lengths to help me improve my writing, presentation and critical thinking skills.

I was sent to national/international conferences on an annual basis and as a result, was able to build a large network of colleagues early in my research career. After completing my PhD, I worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia, and the quality of my PhD training gave me the skills, knowledge and confidence required to work with some of the best researchers in the country. Today, I am back at Memorial University running a neuroscience lab of my own, striving to provide the same quality of supervision to my own students as Michiru provided to me.

She truly made me want to become the best mentor possible, and mentoring has become without question the most rewarding aspect of my job. I’m extremely lucky to be able to continue to work closely with Michiru to conduct high-quality research, to supervise students together and to continue to develop the strong neuroscience program here at Memorial.

-Dr. Matthew Parsons

Dr. Gary Paterno

I am currently a lab head in the Department of Oncology at Sanofi, which is one of the top ten pharmaceutical companies worldwide. Dr. Gary Paterno was my PhD mentor in the Division of BioMedical Sciences at the Faculty of Medicine, Memorial University of Newfoundland from 2000 to 2004. Even though it has been a while since I graduated, my appreciation for his great contributions and help during my training as a graduate student remains deep in my heart.

Gary is a great mentor, and he motivated me to do my best in my project during my PhD program in his lab. He was a great source of encouragement during my program. Gary has a humorous personality and would show great enthusiasm when experiments were completed and data was analyzed, which also made me feel proud of my scientific achievements and discoveries.

Although Gary cared a lot about scientific experiments, he also cared about my overall training. I recall that when the time came for my PhD comprehensive examination, Gary worried about the possible delay for my research program, and arranged a lab technician to help me in the ongoing experiments so I could focus on the preparation for my exams. As such, I was able to spend quite a lot of time in the library and prepare for well my examination, and which I passed with “Distinction” grade in 2002.

I was also very touched when Gary told me that he would support me to pursue my post-doctoral training at Harvard Medical School. He arranged for a phone call with my future post-doctoral mentor Dr. Ron DePinho, and informed him that there was no doubt that I would make great contributions to his research program. This opened great avenues for me after the completion of my PhD and led me in the directions of new research areas, resulting in two first authored original work publications in Nature and Cell during my post-doctoral training in Ron’s lab at Harvard Medical School.

Thank you Gary for your mentorship and motivating me to be my best as a scientist and researcher and in discovering novel things!

-Dr. Zhihu Ding, Laboratory Head, Sanofi-Aventis, Boston, MA

Photo: Dr. Gary Paterno and Dr. Zhihu Ding at Memorial University of Newfoundland after Ding passed his thesis defense with distinction in May 2004


Do you have a mentor who has inspired you or changed your outlook on medicine or research? Share your story.


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