When the mentee becomes the mentor
Van Morris, M.D., benefited from the guidance of others. Now he does the mentoring.
Seasoned mentors who offer advice and career guidance to their newer colleagues come in all forms. Just ask Van Morris, M.D.
“Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to benefit from knowledgeable and caring individuals who gave me professional and personal support,” says Morris, assistant professor of Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology. “They showed an interest in my success and helped me be the best I could be.”
I was the first person in my family to pursue a medical degree, so everything was new to me.
Valuable guidance from early mentors
Morris first came to MD Anderson through a summer training program in 2005, after completing his first year of medical school at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center in Memphis, his hometown. He worked in Gynecologic Oncology with Diane Bodurka, M.D., Pam Soliman, M.D., and Kathleen Schmeler, M.D., who inspired him and taught him the importance of mentorship.
“They were instrumental in guiding my career,” he recalls. “I was the first person in my family to pursue a medical degree, so everything was new to me.”
That summer, Bodurka, who is now a professor and chief education and training officer at MD Anderson, encouraged Morris to apply for an MD Anderson fellowship once he graduated from medical school.
“I saw that Van had an interest in oncology,” she recalls. “As a medical student, he was very diligent and dedicated to his work. All the ingredients for success were there.”
I was able to mentor a medical student, watch him grow into a very successful clinician and researcher, and now work with an esteemed colleague.
Fellowship provides opportunity to perform practice-changing cancer research
Morris took Bodurka’s advice. After medical school and a residency at Duke University, he returned to MD Anderson as a Hematology/Oncology fellow. When the fellowship was over, he participated in the Advanced Scholar Program through the Cancer Medicine division. The program provides an additional year to help participants build upon the research they started as fellows.
During this time, Morris worked on practice-changing research alongside his faculty mentors.
“This is what drew me to oncology in the first place,” he recalls. “The field of oncology is moving so quickly, and the opportunity to perform cutting-edge research that ultimately changes peoples’ lives is very fulfilling.”
Morris worked with Scott Kopetz, M.D., professor of Gastrointestinal Oncology, to identify new targeted therapies for patients with metastatic colorectal cancer. He also worked with James Allison, Ph.D., who won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, on the first clinical trial to use single-agent nivolumab – an immunotherapy drug – to treat advanced anal cancer.
“During that time, I learned about writing and developing proposals and clinical trials,” says Morris, who became an assistant professor at MD Anderson in 2015.
Bodurka says watching Morris’ growth over the past 15 years has been particularly rewarding.
“I was able to mentor a medical student, watch him grow into a very successful clinician and researcher, and now work with an esteemed colleague,” she says.
Paying it forward with mentorship
Morris is now paying forward the gift of mentorship. He recently mentored Katherine Clifton, M.D., his first fellow from the Hematology/Oncology Fellowship program. She’s now an assistant professor specializing in breast cancer at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
“Van was an amazing mentor,” Clifton says “He met with me weekly to discuss research, job interviewing and career development. He puts his heart and soul into everything he does – patient care, research and mentorship.”
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