Longtime Mentor Dr. Ross C. Donehower Honored With ASCO Excellence in Teaching Award

Longtime Mentor Dr. Ross C. Donehower Honored With ASCO Excellence in Teaching Award

Dr. Ross C. Donehower
For nearly 25 years, Ross C. Donehower, MD, FASCO, has directed the Johns Hopkins Hematology & Medical Oncology Fellowship Program. “It’s been by far the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my career,” said Dr. Donehower, who has also been the director of the Division of Medical Oncology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine since 1993. “The fellows are highly intelligent, incredibly motivated, ambitious, very hard workers, and their interests are incredibly diverse. I really enjoy when someone comes in with an area of research we haven’t done yet.”

Dr. Donehower’s enthusiasm for teaching and mentoring has spanned his career, and he has won several awards from the Osler Medical Residency Training Program at The Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Hopkins Cancer Center’s fellowship program. For his commitment to training future mentors, he is being honored with the 2017 ASCO Excellence in Teaching Award.

Dr. Donehower said that seeing his students become mentors in their own right is particularly gratifying.

“It’s when you see young people 5 to 8 years down the road, not only successful in academics, but doing important work and taking on administrative leadership,” Dr. Donehower said. “In our case, we are most proud of the at least three other hematology/oncology programs that are led by our former fellows, and there are another two to three trainees who are in associate director positions who will hopefully ascend.”

Throughout his time as director of the Hematology & Medical Oncology Fellowship Program, approximately 90% of the graduates have held jobs in academic medicine.

Global Perspectives

The Johns Hopkins hematology and medical oncology fellows hail from all over the world, including Ireland, Germany, China, Serbia, and Croatia. “It’s a pretty cosmopolitan program,” Dr. Donehower said. Such diversity, he said, has helped strengthen both the program and his own perspective, yielding important lessons from his students.

“They’ve taught me that you never learn everything, and that you have to be humble and willing to look at things with a fresh perspective,” he said. “We serve people around the world who look at things a different way. The fellows bring a worldly perspective that I personally don’t have, having lived in the United States my entire life.”

Dr. Donehower graduated from the University of Minnesota Medical School before completing his residency in internal medicine at the Osler Medical Residency Training Program at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. He then spent 4 years as a surgeon with the U.S. Public Health Service and as a clinical associate with the National Cancer Institute before joining the faculty at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1980.

Gains in the Field

Teaching wasn’t initially on Dr. Donehower’s radar. But the experience has helped him appreciate how physician training has developed over the years.

“When I started, I was a clinical investigator; I did a lot of early-phase clinical trials,” Dr. Donehower said. “The opportunity to oversee the fellowship program came up, and I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that.’ I had no real training.”

But as time went on, medical education became more regulated through the efforts of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. “There has been a learning curve to keep me looking at things in a fresh way,” he said.

Ultimately, Dr. Donehower has worked together with his colleagues at Johns Hopkins to oversee the fellowship program as well as with other fellowship directors around the country, whom Dr. Donehower calls “a very talented and hardworking group, of whom any could have been chosen for this award.” Overall, such collaborations have helped him create and maintain top-notch residency and fellowship programs that help support and train the next generation of oncologists.

“After you’ve worked in a field like this for a while, you get a sense—even though there’s a lot of wonderful research—that the most important thing we can do in the oncology community is to teach the next generation of researchers and oncologists,” Dr. Donehower said. “There’s an extraordinary talent pool, and when you look at the kind of individuals who will be going into the field, you realize we’ll be in good hands.”

—Cheryl Alkon