Meet YoungEHA leaders Verena and Heiko

by Dr. Fabienne Lucas, YoungEHA Committee

Meet YoungEHA’s inaugural chair Verena Gaidzik and chair-elect Heiko Becker and learn how they became involved with EHA and YoungEHA, why being a physician scientist is the most exciting, challenging and rewarding job in the world to them, and where they see the future in hematology.

Fabienne Lucas: Verena and Heiko, thank you both so much for helping us kick off our new YoungEHA website with this interview and for all the hard work you have done do get YoungEHA where it is. You are both physician scientists working in Germany– can you tell us what a normal work day looks like for you?

Verena Gaidzik: There is no “normal work day”, which means no day is like the other - and this is what I`m loving most! Every day involves taking care of patients (mostly with leukemia and lymphoma), organizing the molecular genetic diagnostic lab, developing and leading clinical trials, doing clinical and translational research in the lab as well as in the clinical trial office, leading the molecular tumor board, holding lectures and teaching students.

I have always a structured plan for the day, sometimes I can follow the plan throughout the day, but mostly “something” occurs and I have to change my plans and adapt. This keeps me flexible and makes my day exciting.

Heiko Becker: I have a very similar experience - there is rarely one day that looks like another. Normally, it is a mix of direct patient care, clinical and lab-based research, teaching and administrative duties. However, being a trained physician scientist has a great influence on almost all of my daily tasks. It shapes the discussions and decisions I am involved in, together with the patient, or with the interprofessional or -disciplinary clinical and research teams. And this is definitely something I value highly.

What is the biggest challenge you face as a physician scientist?

Verena: The biggest challenge? Definitely there is more than one in a life of a physician scientist! The most important one is to balance patient care, research and education. Patients need to have our full attention, always. Working with patients whose lives might be threatened by a malignant hematologic disease is another level of fighting for their lives and involvement. As hematologists, sometimes we win, often we lose, but we are always dedicated to our patients with our heart and knowledge.

As hematologists, sometimes we win, often we lose, but we are always dedicated to our patients with our heart and knowledge.

Heiko: I fully agree with Verena. In general, a physician scientist probably faces similar challenges as anybody else who is fully committed to what they do. Given the indefinite number of things we care about and we would like to do, and the many other things that we have to take care of in addition, I think one of many challenges is to wisely manage and respect the limited time and resources of our own and of the people we work with.

How has EHA helped you navigate your career as a physician scientist so far?

Verena: My first contact with EHA was the EHA Annual Congress in Vienna in 2007. Since then, I was fortunate to attend the annual meeting, first as a participant, then as a presenter, later as session moderator. I´ve been awarded the Translational Research Training in Hematology (TRTH) award in 2010 as well a Clinical Research Training in Hematology (CRTH) award in 2016/2017.

So to me, EHA gave me the platform on the one hand to learn about the latest and exciting discoveries in the world of hematology and to present the research results from our AML study group or our lab. On the other hand, EHA helped me connect and interact with top leaders in the field which is exciting and sometimes overwhelming. Mentoring grants like TRTH or CRTH offered me knowledge from experts but also encouraged me to follow my dreams as a physician scientist.

EHA helped me connect and interact with top leaders in the field.

Heiko: After having been to some annual congresses, my first close contact with EHA was my participation in the TRTH in 2013. This was one of the most inspirational experiences for me as a physician scientist. It was simply great and extremely motivating how each one of the faculty members appreciated the work of the participants, and tried their best to further improve a specific project and give helpful advice for my scientific career.

TRTH was one of the most inspirational experiences for me as a physician scientist.

To you, what is the most important thing that EHA and YoungEHA can provide to early career scientists/ researchers/ physician scientists?

Verena: EHA and YoungEHA can give advice to researchers and physician scientists in their early career stage in terms of hard skills as well as soft skills. In addition, the different grants of EHA enable young doctors to free up their time and get funding for research. But probably more important, EHA is a broad platform for exchange. Networking and spread of excellence, meet and discuss, and be challenged – all of this and more are offered from EHA and YoungEHA - skills that will shape the future of EHA and hematology in Europe.

Heiko: I agree. EHA provides an excellent platform and network to support your research by increasing its visibility, and through unique funding and mentoring programs. EHA also helps to get in touch with other junior or senior scientists and clinicians, and to stay updated in your respective field. And through the YoungEHA committee, early career scientists and clinicians are able to influence the current and future directions of the EHA ... and hopefully beyond.

EHA provides an excellent platform and network to support your research by increasing its visibility, and through unique funding and mentoring programs.

Verena, what was it like to develop and grow the committee and function as the inaugural chair? What have you enjoyed the most? What are your hopes for YoungEHA?

As the YoungEHA committee was a completely new initiative, everything was new, for EHA and for me. It was an experiment and the outcome was not clear. But everyone who was involved brought in their full passion, and this – in my eyes- made the initiative a successful project.

It was fantastic to see how the YoungEHA committee has developed over the last years, how it grows and I`m curious to see where YoungEHA will be in some years. It started as a vision and has now become reality, that is like a pars pro toto for our work as researchers and physician scientists: "We can make our dreams come true, if we believe in them and work hard!"

We can make our dreams come true, if we believe in them and work hard!

Heiko, as chair-elect, what are your goals and vision for YoungEHA?

Well, there is this wealth of highly-committed young scientists and clinicians that are motivated by the purpose of their work. My vision is that YoungEHA will be the platform that supports them in following their ideals and passion, in developing their full talent and in creating a working and studying environment that is energetic and adaptable to the changes of the future. With regard to specific projects, after we, with great support of the EHA, have now established a standing committee representing the interests of the next generation of clinicians and scientists in hematology, we now look forward to the next steps.

We are extremely happy that we have been granted the opportunity to organize the YoungEHA track at the annual congress during the past years. This is something we will continue and expand. Another task is the YoungEHA website - the goal is that it will provide the access point for the various issues that are relevant for young clinicians and scientists in hematology.

Verena and Heiko, thank you so much for your time and answers! Any final thoughts?

Verena: Being successful in science and empathic to patients may be a contraction in these days of impact factors, exploding knowledge and having your own career in mind. However, there were never and will never be more exciting times in hematology than the ones we are in right now. The era of genomes, the options of the world wide web combined with artificial intelligence, the possibilities of precision medicine give us all the tools we need – this should lead to humility and spark maximum efforts to contribute!

Heiko: There is not much to add to what Verena said. Maybe a few thoughts I had during this interview. First, mentors are crucial for the development of young scientists and clinicians, and several aspects are crucial for a functioning mentor/mentee-relationship, like common and transparent goals or a supportive but challenging relationship. So, to all of those without a mentor, look for (at least) one. Also, I want to emphasize that YoungEHA Committee members will only serve for a limited number of years, and then the respective position will be open for application. So, keep an eye open for the next call!

YoungEHA Committee members will only serve for a limited number of years, and then the respective position will be open for application. So, keep an eye open for the next call!

PD Dr. Verena I. Gaidzik is a physician scientist at the University Hospital of Ulm, Internal Medicine III, Ulm, Germany, and the inaugural chair of the YoungEHA committee.

PD Dr. Heiko Becker is a physician scientist at the department of Hematology and Medical Oncology, Medical Center - University of Freiburg, Germany, and the chair-elect of the YoungEHA committee.

Last Updated on Friday 05 April 2019.