Elaine Husni, MD, MPH, knew from an early age that she wanted to be a doctor. Along the way, she relied on the support of mentors and the ACR Research and Education Foundation Awards and Grants program to help establish her career in rheumatology, eventually landing her in her current role as the department vice chair for the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Center at the Cleveland Clinic.
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Explore This IssueAugust 2011
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“REF awards helped me prioritize and solidify what I wanted to do, how I wanted to define my career,” says Dr. Husni. Her story illustrates how the REF Awards and Grants program is designed to work: providing rheumatologists with the experience and skills to achieve the next level of their career, where they can apply for additional grants. “They’re all connected,” Dr. Husni says of the individual items in the REF Awards and Grants portfolio.
Early Career Development
Dr. Husni received the ACR REF Physician Scientist Development Award in 2003. Five years later, she received the ACR REF Clinical Investigator Fellowship Award (both awards have since been combined as the ACR REF Rheumatology Scientist Development Award). She says these awards came at a critical time in her career, when she was struggling to create a balance between her desire to interact with patients while also building her research skills.
Dr. Husni was lucky to have mentors guiding her and instilling a passion of questioning the known, uncovering the unknown, and demonstrating the true meaning of being a lifelong learner.
“Receiving the Physician Scientist Development Award and the Clinical Investigator Fellowship Award helped me make the connection between clinical medicine and research methodology,” she says.
In addition, the awards helped her find the focus that would come to define her career. “I decided to pursue a Masters in Public Health with an emphasis on health outcomes and epidemiology so I could not only help individual patients as their doctor, but also assess many patients at once, at the population level,” she says. Dr. Husni believes this kind of research stimulates the physician-scientist to think on a different level, generating data on a larger group and looking at hypotheses affecting a greater segment of the population.
She says her first grant “really helped build some skill sets in looking not just at how total joint replacement can affect a patient, but at the population level—analyzing large administrative databases.”
Giving Back as a Mentor
Starting in medical school and through her rheumatology fellowship, Dr. Husni says she was lucky to have mentors guiding her and instilling a passion of questioning the known, uncovering the unknown, and demonstrating the true meaning of being a lifelong learner. These mentorships helped cultivate and define her career in a way that textbook learning alone could not.
As a result of these experiences, Dr. Husni decided to give back to others in that role. She served as a preceptor in the ACR REF/Abbot Medical Student Clinical Preceptorship in 2009 and in the ACR REF/Abbott Medical Student Research Preceptorship in 2011.
“The Clinical Investigator Fellowship Award made me realize how I need to mentor and give back to the rheumatology community. That led me to the Preceptorship, and the Preceptorship helped me re-dedicate myself to this career path. Now I direct the Fellows Research Program, where all of the research that fellows initiate comes through a committee. We help refine their hypothesis and assess feasibility, with the hope that we can keep them from getting frustrated or going down the wrong path.”
Dr. Husni says that people use these awards to not only define their career paths, but also to accelerate research. “When you’re talking about something like arthritis, which doesn’t have a cure, you have to look at outcomes at the population level,” she says.
At each stage of her career, the REF was there with a program designed to help her take the next step. “The commitment of applying for and getting an REF award really helps you prioritize what you need to get done in your five-year plan, in defining your career,” Dr. Husni says. “The ACR REF has been invaluable throughout my academic career. It has opened doors that not only propelled my career, but also allowed me to remain passionate about research.”