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Over the course of our work, we have trained hundreds of medical students, residents, and fellows and sent them onto a range of careers in geriatrics and gerontology. The fellows profiled here discuss their fellowship experience and what they took from their fellowships into their current work.
- Alicia Arbaje, MD, MPH
- Richard Bennett, MD
- Ashleigh Hatcher Hicks, MD
- Crystal Simpson, MD
- Jeremy Walston, MD
In 2003, having studied internal medicine, Alicia Arbaje, MD, MPH, applied for a fellowship in health services research, interested in “the interface between healthcare and public policy.” Johns Hopkins seemed like the perfect choice though Dr. Arbaje had heard that it wasn’t the friendliest, most welcoming environment.
Currently a geriatrician and health services researcher in the Johns Hopkins Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology, Dr. Arbaje would like everyone to know that her impression of Johns Hopkins was completely wrong. “I chose Hopkins in part because the director of the health services research fellowship program seemed really interested in my career and I believed he would be a caring and invested mentor.” That interest in her future coupled with the flexibility, creativity, and resources that Hopkins offered sold Dr. Arbaje.
When she decided to do a second fellowship in geriatrics, she only applied to Hopkins. By then, thanks to her mentor, Dr. Arbaje was set on a career as a geriatrician. “I’d been interested in how we can improve medical care to vulnerable populations. My mentor pointed out that the most vulnerable among us are older adults. If we can improve care for those whose needs are the most complex, then we can improve it for everyone.”
She devotes her career to patient care as well as health services research, looking for ways to make navigating the health system easier for older adults. Dr. Arbaje is so passionate about geriatrics that she currently appears on a local Baltimore station to host a segment about health issues older adults may face.
Choosing Hopkins for that second fellowship gave her access to “every single model of care you can imagine for older adults plus so many opportunities for one-to-one interaction with patients that you can’t get anywhere else.” She also discovered a group of mentors and colleagues who “were really interested in my career and my success. The Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology is a really nurturing microcosm within the Hopkins system.”
The combination of extensive clinical care programs and a National Institutes of Health Gerontology Research Center on campus drew Richard Bennett, MD, to a fellowship at Johns Hopkins from 1985 through 1987. Almost 25 years later, he continues to work on the campus, now as president of Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
“The challenge of providing care to patients with complex medical needs and the satisfaction inherent in working with medical care teams to deliver the best care possible to the most vulnerable patients” is what drew Dr. Bennett to his career in geriatric medicine. His fellowship focused on C. difficile infection among nursing home patients and Lancet published two of his reports from the fellowship study.
“Fellowship training at Johns Hopkins Bayview remains unique with the presence of a comprehensive continuum of care on one campus, research training that spans the gamut from epidemiology to bench science, and the presence of the National Institute on Aging in a recently opened tower.”
“What I valued most about the MSTAR program and working with geriatricians at Johns Hopkins was that it emphasized the importance of treating the entire individual and not just the disease,” says Ashleigh Hatcher Hicks, MD, who participated in the program in the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology in the summer of 2003, after her first year of medical school.
Growing up, she spent summers in Pittsburgh visiting her grandparents and great aunt. “Seeing the struggles and resilience of family members as they got older peaked my curiosity to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the physiological and psychological dynamics of aging.”
Coming to Johns Hopkins gave Dr. Hicks a chance to get out of the classroom and into the experience of working with “master clinicians treating a very vulnerable population, suffering from multiple comorbidities and facing many challenging social situations. I learned that there is no universal algorithm that can be used to treat sickness. Because of this, one of the most valuable resources is the time spent listening to patients, understanding the complexities of their medical illnesses and knowing what they value most in life.”
Today, Dr. Hicks is back in the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology, completing a two-year clinical fellowship. “Any medical student who thinks that they might be interested in geriatrics should apply for the MSTAR program at Johns Hopkins. It offers such a broad view into the field of geriatrics from clinical medicine to clinical/basic science research to healthcare policy. No matter what field of medicine is ultimately chosen, they will gain a fund of knowledge and skill set that is relevant to any specialty.”
There isn’t much that Crystal Simpson, MD, doesn’t love about geriatrics. “You can learn so much from older adults. I love working with them,” she says, adding that she also enjoys the teamwork. “The nurses, nurses aides, physical therapists, and social workers all come together to help patients meet their goals.”
And that appreciation for the field extends to the fellowship she did at the Johns Hopkins Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology between 1999 and 2002. “Hopkins is one of the best places to train. You learn from the best geriatricians in the country how to treat older adults. The experience I had was invaluable. I worked with a great team of people.”
She believes that what she learned during her fellowship has helped her throughout her medical career. For her, the practice of geriatric medicine is like putting a jigsaw puzzle together, but with a far better result. “With multiple medical problems to take care of for each patient, it is like the challenge of a puzzle, trying to make sure that all of the solutions will work together,” she notes. But when you solve the puzzle of patient health, the result is far better quality of life, she says.
Today, Dr. Simpson works at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), providing medical input for Medicare payment rules for chronic care, such as what is provided at hospices and skilled nursing facilities. “I chose Johns Hopkins because of the wonderful physicians/faculty. They were excellent clinicians and teachers. Learning from people who are experts in their fields was the most valuable part of the fellowship for me.”
“I would say that given the demographic imperative of increased numbers of older adults, a well-trained geriatrician with both clinical and research skills has incredible potential for a highly rewarding career,” says Jeremy Walston, MD. He should know. He continues to enjoy a successful and engaging career in clinical research as a professor of medicine in the Johns Hopkins’ Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology.
His career has benefited greatly, he says, from the work he did in a clinical research fellowship at Johns Hopkins from 1991 to 1994. The value of his fellowship had less to do with the focus of his research—type 2 diabetes mellitus—than the great mentoring he received and the invitation to step outside his comfort zone. “I was open to learning about signal transduction pathways within cells, which was a big change from the clinical pathways that I had been trained to follow.”
He continues to rely on that open-minded learning approach as he studies “aging-related cellular changes that are broadly applicable to etiologies of chronic disease and the development of disability in older adults.” The knowledge he has gained has allowed him to think about “how best to translate basic biological findings into meaningful clinical translation that will improve the quality of life of older adults.”
“The fellowship program represents a fantastic opportunity to learn both clinical skills and research skills at a top institution,” Dr. Walston says. “The depth of scholarship in both realms at Johns Hopkins continues to amaze me, as does the ability to truly make a difference to the well being of older adults.”