Leslie S. Kersun, MD, MSCE, MSEd, discusses finding the right scholarship program; the challenge of balancing research, patient care and education as an intern; and find his center of interest during the fraternity.
Like many physicians, Leslie S. Kersun, MD, MSCE, MSEd, has known since childhood that she wanted to pursue a career in medicine. She found her calling in pediatric oncology as an undergraduate student at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, while volunteering with the child welfare department of a local hospital. The program provides developmental stimulation, support and advocacy for children’s emotional and psychological needs.
“I have met a lot of children with cancer because they were in the hospital a lot more often,” she said. “Then I noticed in medical school that I was really interested in cancer and blood disorders while we were doing these sections. Things all fit together over time. I didn’t have a lot of decisions to make; each step of the way fell into place.
She received her MD from Albany Medical College in New York and was a pediatric resident at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) in Pennsylvania. She completed her first year of Pediatric Hematology / Oncology Fellowship at Children’s Regional Medical Center, now Seattle Children’s Hospital, Washington, and returned to CHOP to complete her training. During her training and early in her appointment to the faculty, she realized that she had a passion for medical education.
“As a scholar, I enjoyed teaching residents and medical students,” she said. “Shortly after completing my fellowship, I had the opportunity to help rotate residents in our oncology unit. It was my job to understand and adjust the way residents were educated when they attended their oncology internship.
Shortly thereafter, she became medical director of inpatients in oncology, in addition to becoming more involved in the scholarship program. She was later appointed Associate Director of Fellowships and is now Program Director for one of the largest pediatric hematology / oncology scholarship programs in the country. With the exception of her year in Seattle, Kersun has been with CHOP since 1996.
She recently assumed the role of Associate Designated Institutional Manager and, along with the Senior Medical Education Leadership Team, helps oversee more than 70 training programs at CHOP. Working at CHOP is fantastic, she says. “It’s a great place to work. There is a lot of expertise and dedication to education there. We have a great culture and there is always someone to help you with a patient or a question.
Kersun spoke with oncology fellows to discuss finding the right fellowship program; the challenge of balancing research, patient care and education as an intern; and find his center of interest during the fraternity.
Oncology fellows: You haven’t had a hard time finding your career path, but how do you help fellows focus when they enter the program?
Kersun: One of the most important things to consider when considering a scholarship program is the type of mentorship available to help you grow professionally. You need to think about the clinical mentoring structure of the program, as these faculty members will help you learn how to care for patients. Two of the three years of fellowship training focus on research. Depending on the type of research you are interested in, whether it is strictly laboratory research, more translational research, or clinically oriented research, you need to determine the type of mentors and resources available. This is essential when planning your career and determining who in this institution can help guide you down the path you want.
Then, of course, there are the life mentors. These may not be one of your assigned mentors for a particular area. They are teachers who have chosen a similar path, have structured their lives in a way that suits you, or have tips that can guide you.
What should residents look for in a scholarship program?
The scholarship is, for most, the last step in their training before moving on to a teaching position. It is essential to have mentors, resources and a program that can help you support your professional interests and a culture that allows you to thrive during training. These are very important questions to ask when considering applying for a program or going for a program interview; [it’s important] at [understand whether] this program can support your development and the areas of your career that are most important to you. It’s a little different from residency training. The interview process and the aspects that are most important to the program can be very different.
Typically, people who go for a scholarship are looking to get into academic medicine, but is the scholarship useful for people who want to become community physicians?
There is value in whatever you choose to do, so we don’t think doctors doing research in an academic center are more valuable than doctors who choose to have primarily clinical careers. Our scholarship will definitely train you for any career path that interests you. In pediatric oncology, there are far fewer opportunities in community medicine or private practice — that’s just not how most practices are structured. Children with cancer and blood disorders are most often seen in hospital settings because you need a blood bank; laboratory diagnostics; multiple specialties such as radiology, pathology, surgical specialties, radiation oncology; and various disciplines to better care for patients. It’s not that there aren’t community or private practices available; it’s just less common.
Some guy who comes to you in the middle of his third year and says, “Dr Kersun, I don’t know how to find a job. What do you tell them to take the next step to work as a doctor and researcher?
We talk to them about it from the start. Our division manager gives a talk on the job search process that is suitable for each intern. He explains how he can help read cover letters and contact potential employers to help our fellows find opportunities that will achieve their career goals. It also reviews what fellows should think about accomplishing during the training, and then how to choose a faculty position that will help them continue to advance their careers. Our research mentors and clinical mentors engage with fellows as they progress in shaping their interests and the opportunities that may be available to them.
Our program also has instructor positions, which serve as a transition period that lasts 1 to 3 years before obtaining a teaching position. This type of position is primarily intended for fellows who are interested in research. With only 2 years of scholarship dedicated to research, many interns did not have enough research experience to apply for a grant to support their salary upon completion of the training. They can use this transition time to further develop their projects and work with their mentors to move towards independence. They can also serve as attending physician during this period while further developing their research projects. When they have completed this period, they are ready to apply for a job.