Lovell's Food For Thought - Creating A Critical Mass to Eliminate Health Inequities

Dr. Lovell Jones | 10/23/2016, 6 a.m.
Bring together the many facets of 30 years of mentoring individuals in a biopsychosocial approach to creating a mighty Army ...
Confucius once said that "If your plan is for 1 year, plant rice. If your plan is for 10 years, plant trees. If your plan is for 100 years educate children." The Center for Research on Minority Health/Dorothy I. Height Center for Health Equity & Evaluation Research has been training individuals for almost two decades. It is time to connect the dots to create an effective Army in addressing health inequities.

One has many mentors over one’s life. For me, I have been fortunate to have many who have had a positive impact on my life. And without whose help, I would not be where I am today. There are two who I was like to highlight that I owe a special debt of gratitude. Both of these men cared as much about my career as they did about their own careers. One, Howard Bern, guided me through graduate school and the other, Finn Siiteri, through my postdoctoral fellowship. I remember Finn once saying, “it is not only what you know, but who knows you that will be crucial for your success.” That was quite evident when18 individuals were asked to write letters of recommendation for my promotion from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor. This group included two Nobel laureates, five members of the National Academy of Sciences, two directors of foreign research laboratories and other distinguished individuals. I remember Finn calling me to tell me about the numbers. He then said, “They must be putting up for a chair, then laughed and said, “an electric chair.” This validated that networking was extremely important in that those all asked wrote positive letters for my promotion. BTW, I did get promoted, was it took another year to gain tenure.

The other saying I keep in my mind is what my other mentor said. Howard would say as I often paraphrase him, “your greatest contribution to science (sometimes life) is not the papers you publish or the grants you secure or the honors bestowed on you, but the people you leave behind to continue to work.” Both men made sure whoever came through their labs; their trainees got to meet them. And both pushed the work of their trainees, make sure that if the mentee’s work was presented, the mentee got credit for their work. Therefore, when the 18 individuals got that request for a letter of recommendation on my promotion, they all knew who I was and the scientific contributions I made. Both men made it abundantly clear, as Howard said, “Let your science be the rock you stand on!! Even in quicksand, you will not sink.” What this meant was to also mentor by example even when you speak out on social issues. That if you were going to leave successful people behind to continue the work; you needed to be successful as well. This is a philosophy I have tried to instill into my mentees.

Affectionately, some of my mentees call me “Papa Jones.” Howard once said that when you take on a trainee, it is like adopting a child. I remember a time, not calling him for a while after having moved to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, I got this phone call with the voice on the other end of the line saying, “you don’t need me anymore.” It was Howard.

Since 2006, the Disparities in Health in America: Working Toward Social Justice Workshop has provided a forum for the fellow who trained in the Center for Research on Minority Health (CRMH) to come together at an informal Alumni reception/dinner where they renewed old friendships and created new ones. It has now expanded to not only the Kellogg Fellows, but other mentees, faculty and staff of the CRMH. Recently, the idea of forming a formal network came to mind on a recent Sunday, after Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee mentioned that she had run into “one of my Army.” As I thought about it, I realized that the Army is larger than just those who have came through the CRMH, but all of those who have been impacted by the CRMH, the ICC and HDEART and their educational programs.