Dean Klotman’s lessons from a successful career as a physician-scientist

Over the course of the summer we have had the opportunity to hear from a wide range of exciting and inspirational scientists at Duke, from up and coming faculty members such as Dr. Lawrence David and Dr. Amy Schmid to well-established ones like Dean Nowicki and Dr. Lefkowitz. Last week, Dean Mary Klotman of the Duke School of Medicine spoke to us about her career in clinical medicine and research.

One of Dean Klotman’s first pieces of advice was to ensure that you receive the very best training in each field you wish to pursue – something that she has certainly done throughout her career. She completed her undergraduate degree, medical degree, and her clinical residency at Duke, before moving to the NIH in order to be trained in the laboratory of Dr. Robert Gallo. She also spoke of the importance of using your connections to access new opportunities, which reminded me of Dr. Grunwald’s advice to build and maintain a strong network of scientists as you proceed through your career.

Dean Klotman has spent her research career studying HIV-associated nephropathy, the development of kidney disease in association with HIV infection. She demonstrated that the human immunodeficiency virus, although typically only associated with cells of the immune system, caused the disease by essentially ‘hiding’ inside kidney cells and thereby causing focal scarring of the kidney. Her work led to the successful use of antiretrovirals to treat this once-baffling disease.

Dean Klotman emphasized the advantages of being a physician-scientist, which I found particularly interesting seeing as I am considering pursuing an MD PhD. She argued that her medical training gave her an enhanced perspective on how scientific advances can be translated into improvements in the treatment of patients. Additionally, she explained how physician-scientists can use their patients to gather scientific evidence. For example, a significant breakthrough in demonstrating the link between HIV and focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) came when she found a remarkable improvement in the kidney function of one of her FSGS patients upon treatment with antiretrovirals.

Due to her background in infectious disease, I asked Dean Klotman about the threat of antimicrobial resistance. She emphasized the gravity of the issue and laid out several clinical approaches being taken to tackle it. These include a campaign against the unnecessary use and overuse of antibiotics, the improvement of infection control mechanism, and cooperation between healthcare institutions like Duke Health and the pharmaceutical industry to enable the development of new, effective antibiotics. She suggested that bacteriology would be an interesting field to go into given the current threat posed by antimicrobial resistance, and the need for novel methods of treating bacterial infections. Perhaps this is something for me to consider!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *