Women Who Conquer Cancer Mentorship Award Recipients Announced

Women Who Conquer Cancer Mentorship Award Recipients Announced

Dr. Elizabeth J. Shpall
The Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO has announced that Elizabeth J. Shpall, MD, of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and Mary K. Gospodarowicz, MD, of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Canada, are the 2017 recipients of the Women Who Conquer Cancer Mentorship Award.

The award honors female oncologists who are both leaders and mentors in their field. Recipients must demonstrate a commitment to the professional development of their female colleagues as oncologists, researchers, and educators through a sustained record of mentoring over time and an emphasis on mentoring that:

  • Demonstrates concern and support of the personal development of colleagues,
  • Encourages career growth and development,
  • Offers professional guidance,
  • Exhibits positive role modeling, and
  • Demonstrates a long-term commitment to mentoring.

Recipients are nominated by a colleague or mentee who can attest to their mentoring activities. Candidates are then considered by the Women Who Conquer Cancer Selection Group. The groups’ recommendations are ultimately approved by the Conquer Cancer Foundation Board of Directors.

Dr. Elizabeth J. Shpall

Dr. Shpall is an expert in stem cell transplantation and cellular therapy. As the deputy chair of the Department of Stem Cell Transplantation and director of the GMP Cell Therapy Laboratory at MD Anderson, Dr. Shpall and her team have researched techniques to improve the safety and efficacy of stem cell transplantation in patients with cancer. One of her major contributions includes improving cord blood engraftment with ex-vivo expansion in mesenchymal cell co-cultures.

As the director of the MD Anderson’s Cord Blood Bank (CBB), Dr. Shpall has led efforts that have resulted in the collection of more than 55,000 cord blood units from volunteers in hospitals across Houston. As a result of her research and leadership, more than 1,500 patients with cancer have been successfully transplanted with cord blood from the CBB since it was established in 2005.

Dr. Shpall has continued her involvement in the national and international stem cell therapy movement as the founding president and current board member of the Foundation Accreditation of Hematopoietic Cell Therapy and a past president of the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation.

But it’s in her teaching and mentoring that she feels like she’s made her greatest mark.

Mentoring is “a bit like having a child. You take a young person who has potential, and after a few steers in the right direction, you can see them excel and become a great physician or laboratory investigator. It gives you a little legacy—you leave a mark on the world with each person you mentor,” Dr. Shpall said.

Dr. Mary K. Gospodarowicz
Dr. Shpall started mentoring fellows when she was an assistant professor at Mount Sinai Medical Center. For more than 2 decades, she has mentored female fellows, early-career faculty, and post-doctoral scientists in her laboratory and/or clinical program who were interested in working with her and her team.

Dr. Shpall has mentored all kinds of investigators and calls mentoring a “lifestyle more than anything else. It’s very natural,” she said. Dr. Shpall has been able to watch many of the people whom she has mentored go on to have successful careers and become mentors themselves—something that she calls “gratifying.” 

“By mentoring many clinicians and scientists, one can enhance the impact on patient outcomes by improving the quality of care and the science of our field,” Dr. Shpall said.

Dr. Mary K. Gospodarowicz

Dr. Gospodarowicz is an expert in radiation therapy for lymphomas and genitourinary cancers. Her research is focused on clinical trials evaluating radiation therapy, image-guided precision radiotherapy, and cancer survivorship. Previous awards include the May Cohen Award for Women Mentors from the Canadian Medical Association, the Janeway Medal from the American Radium Society, European Society for Radiotherapy & Oncology Lifetime Achievement Award, and the American Society for Radiation Oncology Gold Medal. In 2015, she was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada.

However, it is her contribution to helping early-career colleagues that she is most proud of. “The most rewarding thing is to see your trainees succeed in their careers and in their personal lives—to see someone who has started in medicine become a leader, making major contributions to health care,” Dr. Gospodarowicz said.

“We live in a society that is very interdependent,” she continued. “We work together, and helping to create an effective group or team or department is not only necessary, but it gives you great satisfaction.”

Although Dr. Gospodarowicz noted that competition is common in academic research, where researchers have to distinguish themselves to get a job or a promotion, she said that it is important to remember one of her colleague’s mantras: we grow by giving.

“Seeing someone else succeed is so much more rewarding than one’s own success,” she said. “When you enlarge the team of effective people, you create capacity. When you create new team members, you create new, lasting friendships.” Through mentoring “you don’t count the hours or days, and you don’t think of [personal] success. You think about other people rather than yourself,” Dr. Gospodarowicz said.  

–Danielle Prieur