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Annual Report - 2007-2008 - Education

Annual Report - Winter 2009

Commitment to Education

Educating Today for Tomorrow
Profile: Educator Inspires Students as Programs Expand
Profile: Mentor Carries on Ancient Tradition
Profile: One Employee’s Grassroots Effort
Reaccreditations Keep Us Moving Forward
Education Highlights
Physician Oncology Toolkit
iTunes U
Public Education Efforts

Educating Today for Tomorrow

During the last year, more than 5,000 people received training at MD Anderson. They included full-time clinical fellows and residents, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, undergraduate allied health students and an increasing number of nursing students. Practicing physicians, visiting scientists and an array of other health care professionals also rotated for shorter periods of time through the institution’s doors to learn the latest in cancer research and specialized clinical care. Gifted high school and college students along with science teachers worked in multiple research laboratories. And a record number of people benefited from public education programs aimed at raising awareness about cancer risk and motivating them to prevent the disease.

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Educator Inspires Students as Programs Expand

By Mary Jane Schier

Michael Ahearn, Ph.D.

MD Anderson bears the educational imprint of Michael Ahearn.

Since arriving at the institution in 1965, he has encouraged the training of hundreds of allied health professionals and promoted science careers for high school and college students.

Ahearn, Ph.D., who has held academic administrative appointments for 22 years, has served as founding dean of the School of Health Professions (SHP) since 1998.

“Our school prepares health professionals in eight disciplines that provide critical support to patient care and research activities here and at other health care facilities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2015 we may have a shortage of as many as 2.5 million of these important professionals,” Ahearn notes.

SHP offers one of only seven accredited molecular genetic technology programs and one of fewer than 10 academic programs in medical dosimetry. Other SHP programs include:

  • Clinical laboratory science
  • Cytogenetic technology
  • Diagnostic imaging
  • Histotechnology
  • Radiation therapy

Bachelor of Science degrees are awarded in seven programs, and the Histotechnology Program is working toward degree status.

SHP achievements during the past year include:

  • Increasing the rigorous laboratory and clinical training for most disciplines from 12 to 24 months to include new and emerging technologies. The majority of students enter after their sophomore year in college.
  • Marking the first graduation for the three-year Diagnostic Imaging Program with all eight students receiving bachelor’s degrees.
  • Reaching a total enrollment of 203 students, which is more than double the number from a year ago.
  • Completing plans to move all SHP classrooms, faculty offices and supporting services to one central location in late 2008.

Because many graduates are recruited to work at MD Anderson, Ahearn says it has been “enormously satisfying to be an integral part of their training and then see the substantial contributions they are making to our campaign to eradicate cancer.”

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Mentor Carries on Ancient Tradition

By Mary Jane Schier

Michelle Barton, Ph.D., and Joseph
Taube, graduate research assistant.

Michelle Barton is continuing a tradition that dates back to the ancient Greek poet Homer. As a model mentor for graduate students, she has earned this title that in his epic, “The Odyssey,” describes a wise and trusted teacher.

Now almost 30 centuries later, Barton, Ph.D., exemplifies why many MD Anderson faculty members are caring mentors to students and trainees in educational programs preparing the next generation of physicians and scientists.

“I have had wonderful mentors who helped shape my career, and I enjoy interacting with our incredibly bright students during their early scientific journeys,” explains Barton, professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Since joining MD Anderson in 2000, Barton has won multiple awards for her contributions to strengthen training for students at The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS). In addition to mentoring students in her laboratory, she has served on more than 100 students’ advisory, supervisory and examining committees as well as major GSBS policy committees.

While co-director and director of the GSBS Genes and Development Program, Barton coordinated a 60-page student handbook that became a standard for other programs. She also organized Bioinformatics for Biologists, a course to help students and faculty interpret large amounts of data acquired from gene assays, genomics and proteomics.

Barton’s gene expression and tissue regeneration research has allowed her to collaborate with scientists around the world and led to launching an international exchange program with two German institutions last summer. She developed that program as a founding member of MD Anderson’s Graduate Education Committee using institutional funds earmarked for improving recruitment of GSBS students.

“The four German students who spent 10 weeks working with our researchers learned a great deal, and we plan to host four more this summer. We also expect some GSBS students will visit labs in Germany in the future,” Barton says.

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One Employee’s Grassroots Effort

By Mary Brolley

Vaithianathan Dorai, Ph.D.

Vaithianathan “V.K.” Dorai, Ph.D., is a big picture guy.

A senior informatics analyst in the Department of Performance Improvement, he helps internal clients examine and improve their efficiency and productivity. For example, one project involved tracking clinic traffic to determine space needs in advance of a redesign.

But to grasp the big picture of how the institution runs — and where it’s headed — Dorai likes to get away from computer screens, numbers and spreadsheets.

So he volunteers for a number of MD Anderson’s outreach and education programs.

As an employee ambassador for the Public Education Office, he gives walking tours of the institution. He also works with researchers at MD Anderson’s Center for Research on Minority Health in the area of South Asian health issues and is part of the institution’s medical mission group.

His most fulfilling volunteer effort is staffing health fairs in and near Pearland, Texas, home to many immigrants from South Asia. Although he left India 25 years ago, he can still identify with their concerns.

Life in the United States offers fewer opportunities to walk and a richer diet, and the incidence of cancer is higher. So when it comes to cancer, he says, “They may need guidance. In India, few people have health insurance. So when South Asian immigrants come to the United States, they may not be in the habit of getting check-ups or cancer screenings.”

That’s why Dorai gets out there on behalf of MD Anderson — to educate. He hands out literature, fields questions, makes connections.

People talk to him.

“It may help for them to see a fellow Indian — a familiar face. Someone speaking their language.”

Dorai relishes the interaction. “It’s a way for me to give something back to the community and to the institution,” he says.

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Reaccreditations Keep Us Moving Forward

The Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education reaccredited MD Anderson’s comprehensive continuing medical education program with commendation for educational planning, evaluation and administration for the maximum six years. This achievement “represents a great, years-long, ongoing effort” for the nation’s largest oncology CME program, notes Stephen Tomasovic, Ph.D., senior vice president for academic affairs.

MD Anderson’s oncology education program for physician assistants was one of only two postgraduate programs in the United States to earn a three-year accreditation from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, reports Maura Polansky, director of the multidisciplinary training program.

The University of Texas Police Department that provides public safety services to all MD Anderson employees at multiple sites received its fifth three-year accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies Inc. 

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Education Highlights

  • The Hematology/Oncology Fellowship Program directed by Robert Wolff, M.D., deputy head of the Division of Cancer Medicine, added a fourth year to give trainees an opportunity for additional research experiences.
  • The Department of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery accepted its first veterinary resident in January 2008 as part of the new Gulf Coast Consortium Postdoctoral Training Program in Laboratory Animal Medicine. The program is a collaborative effort with Baylor College of Medicine and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston to increase specialized training of laboratory veterinarians who support biomedical research.
  • MD Anderson’s professional nurses broadened their partnerships to increase the pipeline of nursing graduates and enhance the diversity of the nursing workforce. The institution loaned faculty to Texas Woman’s University College of Nursing and The University of Texas School of Nursing at Houston to strengthen training of future nurses. Students from those two schools as well as Houston Baptist University College of Nursing, Prairie View A&M University College of Nursing and The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston School of Nursing take clinical rotations here.

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Physician Oncology Toolkit

A customized auto-launching jump drive, the award-winning Physician Oncology Toolkit is a one-stop resource for physicians with information on MD Anderson news, clinical trials, faculty, speakers, specialists and more. Information can be updated on a regular basis through the Internet site:

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iTunes U

Through iTunes U, MD Anderson’s educational videos and podcasts can now be played and downloaded just like music or other forms of entertainment. The site,, offers a wide variety of content for anyone touched by cancer, from the latest treatments to caregiving and complementary modalities.

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Public Education Efforts

In 2008, the Public Education Office passed the 1 million mark of people served annually through community outreach events, materials about cancer risk reduction, Internet site links, health fair exhibits, presentations to schools and worksites, tours and other specialized programs. The askMDAnderson service helped 107,475 people this past year via the telephone and online.

Fellows Give High Marks

Postdoctoral fellows ranked MD Anderson among the top five workplaces in the United States, according to The Scientist magazine’s annual Best Places to Work for Postdocs Survey. Among key factors were the quality of training and mentoring, career development opportunities and the ability to network with others.

Training Future Scientists

A new Graduate Education Committee chaired by Gary Gallick, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Genitourinary Medical Oncology, took major steps to enhance recruitment of top-tier graduate students and increase faculty participation in training future scientists in their laboratories. Improved graduate student recruitment tools include a revamped institutional Internet site and evolving web-based tools such as Facebook and chat rooms. Additional support also was secured for student stipends.

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© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center