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Fellowship and Student Success Stories

Our diverse fellowship graduates have pursued careers in clinical medicine, aging-focused research, and administrative leadership in academic and clinical programs across the US. For example, Jeff Williamson, MD is the program Director at the Sticht Center on Aging at Wake Forest University, Ziad Haydar, MD is a Senior Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer at Ascension Healthcare in Dallas, Texas, Sanjay Asthana, MD, is the Division Director at University of Wisconsin School of Medicine, and Richard Bennett, MD is the President of Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. The career paths for recent grads are described below. More detailed stories about program graduates can be found through this link, What are they doing now? Fellowship graduates since 2014.

Moving Memory Care Forward: Halima Amjad, M.D., M.P.H.

As a four year old, Halima Amjad, M.D., M.P.H., told her parents that she wanted to be mommy and daddy’s doctor when she grew up. But she never truly imagined she would become a geriatrician and dementia care researcher when that was precisely what her family would need. “I had little exposure to clinical geriatrics and research before residency. But I knew I wanted to take care of patients holistically and improve clinical care where I saw gaps. Being a geriatrician researcher allows me to do just that.” As a resident learning about geriatrics, Dr. Amjad found herself drawn to the art of medicine and individualized decision-making that is at the heart of geriatrics. “I also found myself drawn to the benefit of a ‘less is more’ approach for some of my more complex or frail hospitalized patients.”

Alongside clinical training, Dr. Amjad’s family experiences guided her evolving expertise and career interests. Dr. Amjad’s father was diagnosed with early-onset dementia due to frontotemporal degeneration in 2009, around the time she was graduating from medical school. Challenges that her family encountered guided Dr. Amjad not only to geriatrics but also to dementia-centered care. She completed a clinical and research fellowship in geriatrics at Johns Hopkins from 2013 to 2016, and then joined our faculty as a clinician investigator. Today, she sees patients at the Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center and conducts epidemiologic and health services research focused on improving dementia diagnosis and care.

“The fellowship program allowed me to get both the clinical and research training that I needed to establish a career that would allow me to honor my dad and other families grappling with dementia. I credit the fellowship training and mentorship at Johns Hopkins for all that I have accomplished and still hope to accomplish.”

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A Perfect Combination: Alicia Arbaje, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D.

In 2003, having studied internal medicine, Alicia Arbaje, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., 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.”

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Spanning the Gamut of Gerontology: Richard Bennett, M.D.

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.”

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Leading Health Culture: Thomas K.M. Cudjoe, M.D., M.P.H.

As a teenager, Thomas K.M. Cudjoe, M.D., M.P.H., was a caregiver for his grandparents, accompanying them to doctor’s appointments and helping them with their activities of daily living. These experiences compelled him to pursue medicine, public health and the care of older adults. These early interactions exposed him to the importance of social connections on the health of older adults. Dr. Cudjoe completed clinical and research fellowship at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine from 2015-2018. During this time, he also participated in the Robert Wood Johnson Culture of Health Leaders Program.

A 2020 recipient of the Junior Faculty Teaching Award and the Caryl and George Bernstein Center for Innovative Medicine Human Aging Project Scholar, Dr. Cudjoe is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology and Core Faculty in the Johns Hopkins Center on Aging and Health.  His recent research has focused on social isolation, accessible housing and mobility concerns, and advanced care planning, among others. Those are just some of the reasons why he was named among the 125 Hopkins Heroes as part of the university’s 125th Anniversary. In addition to being a Hopkins Hero, Dr. Cudjoe has a strong reputation for infusing caring into his teaching and research, yielding meaningful findings with impact.

Dr. Cudjoe was installed in the spring of 2021 as an inaugural Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Professor, this endowed professorship will support his research and professional development. In addition, to his research Dr. Cudjoe cares for older adults in their homes via the Johns Hopkins Home-based Medicine Program.

“The fellowship program gave me the space to explore my interest at a critical juncture in my career this along with supportive mentors in medicine, nursing, and public health have enabled me to advance my career and interest in an area to which that I am deeply committed.”

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Understanding the Complexities: Ashleigh Hatcher Hicks, M.D.

“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, M.D., 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.”

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Written in the Stars: Mariah Lyn Robertson, M.D., M.P.H.

Mariah Robertson's journey to where she is today has been a bit circuitous, but when she reflects on her "why" this path been written in the stars all along. Out of college, she diverged from my colleagues in the premed track. While they all pursued medical school, she decided she wanted to tackle the healthcare system from a population level. She received a Masters of Public Health with a focus on Epidemiology and Behavioral Sciences. She spent five years working in the realm of health disparities, specifically focused on access to physical activity and nutrition. Her personal life events, namely her mother being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease, served as another turn in her path. She realized she wanted to be physically closer to her so that she could care for her, but also as a frustrated caregiver, she wanted to change the systems of care that just weren't built well for her or others like her. Mariah decided to pursue medicine broadly and geriatric medicine specifically. As serendipity would have it, she met Dr. John Burton on a site visit to her medical school and he put a bug in her ear about a residency program in Baltimore, Maryland that just might be a good fit for someone with her interests. When her mother passed away from complications of her disease, she no longer needed to remain in the Midwest, and decided to shoot for the stars and apply to Johns Hopkins Bayview for residency. The rest is history.

All of her life, including her personal and professional experiences, have lead her to geriatric medicine broadly and care of homebound and socially isolated patients specifically. Her health disparities experience in the field of public health made her laser-focused on changing the way we care for our most vulnerable older adults. Her personal life experiences afford her an empathy rooted in watching her own mother suffer in a healthcare system that failed her. She knows what it is like to be a caregiver and feel helpless and hopeless. Mariah is driven to help empower and support her patients and their caregivers both on an individual level and at a systems level. She is also driven to educate the next generation of physicians to be advocates for their older adult patients. "I feel such gratitude that as I look backward each step I have taken has lead me to where I am and I am excited to make a continued impact on the elders I am fortunate to serve in the Baltimore community and beyond."

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An Expert Experience: Crystal Simpson, M.D.

There isn’t much that Crystal Simpson, M.D., 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.”

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Stepping Out of the Comfort Zone: Jeremy Walston, M.D.

“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, M.D.. 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.”

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