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ACTS Honors Susan Furth, MD, PhD, for Innovative Mentorship

Published on April 18, 2023 in Cornerstone Blog · Last updated 9 months 1 week ago
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Susan Furth, MD, PhD

Susan Furth, MD, PhD, supports junior investigators at a CHOP Research Institute event.

By Jillian Rose Lim

Executive Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute Susan Furth, MD, PhD, often looks to a quote taped to her computer that reads: "A mentor is someone whose hindsight can become your foresight."

A renowned nephrologist, Dr. Furth appreciates the role that mentorship has played in her career, and the Association for Clinical and Translational Science (ACTS) agrees, as it recognizes her accomplishments with the 2023 Mentorship Innovation Award. One of two ACTS Distinguished Educator Awards, the award is made more meaningful by the fact that recipients are nominated by their colleagues and peers.

The honor recognizes distinguished mentors with outstanding innovation in mentorship resulting in significant scientific accomplishments by the next generation of clinical and translational researchers and/or innovative approaches in mentorship to promote diversity and retention of underrepresented groups in translational research. ACTS announced the award April 18 at their Translational Science 2023 conference in Washington D.C.

"It's incredibly meaningful to be recognized with this award from ACTS," Dr. Furth said. "I was very fortunate to have terrific mentors early on as well as the opportunity to develop structures that can propagate mentorship so others can have the same benefit. Trying to model the mentorship I received for the people coming behind me always has been a big focus of my career. It's extraordinarily gratifying to have so many talented people in medicine and research, whether they are students interested in healthcare or medical students and trainees. When you point them in the right direction, they can far exceed your expectations."

Value of Mentorship

Dr. Furth has advocated passionately for the value of mentorship in science and academia throughout her career. In 2019, Dr. Furth received the University of Pennsylvania's FOCUS Award for the Advancement of Women in Medicine, a testament to her passion about the importance of mentorship for women in science. She received the Society for Pediatric Research Maureen Andrew Mentor Award in 2021for her mentorship of a long list of postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty who went on to have successful careers of their own. These mentees include adult and pediatric nephrologists, rheumatologists, intensivists, and urologists from institutions across the country.

Speaking on Dr. Furth's mentoring work, Joseph St. Geme, MD, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at CHOP, noted that her "commitment to training the next generation of physicians and scientists is truly remarkable and has had a profound impact on advancing the care of children."

Beyond mentoring others, Dr. Furth's leadership roles as former chief of the Division of Nephrology and now as CSO have enabled her to support efforts that provide and encourage mentorship across the Research Institute. In 2017, she developed the Department of Pediatrics Junior Faculty Advising Program, which pairs incoming researchers with a senior faculty member advisor, in addition to their academic mentor. Through the program, advisees meet with advisors several times a year for guidance on career development, work-life balance, and other topics. Dr. Furth describes the pairing as the opportunity for "another coach or sponsor" to share wisdom with their advisee.

Dr. Furth has also situated mentorship, particularly for individuals from underrepresented communities, as a top priority in the Research Institute's structure.

"At the CHOP Research Institute today, we have a terrific group of people who are focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives that promote STEM careers even in grade school, high school, and college — particularly for individuals from backgrounds who are traditionally underrepresented in medicine," Dr. Furth said. "That's another kind of mentorship, and I think being recognized for supporting those kinds of programs is really wonderful."

Under her leadership, these programs, including the CHOP Research Internship for Scholars and Emerging Scientists and CHOP Research Institute Summer Scholars Program initiatives developed by the Office of Academic Training and Outreach Programs, continue to grow.

Strong Guides

Dr. Furth's emphasis on mentorship stems from the fact that she had strong guides who advised her on work, life, and science.

"I was very fortunate to have terrific mentors who helped me with my research career, given that they had already forged a path that I could follow," Dr. Furth said. "I also had mentors in my academic career who gave great advice about what to prioritize, what to say no to, and what my focus should be at different times in my career when I was trying to balance being a doctor, researcher, and mom."

What quick advice would the recipient of the Mentorship Innovation Award offer to scientists?

"It takes a village," Dr. Furth said. "Be willing to raise your hand, ask questions, and reach out to people. Find individuals to whom you can go for advice who are either peers or a little ahead of you on the career path. It's enormously helpful to have a group of folks you can trust who can give you good advice, and who will have your back when things do not go well. Look for that in your career, whether they are at your own institution, other institutions, or through professional societies.

"I would also say do not get discouraged," Dr. Furth added. "I encourage people to persevere because it can be enormously gratifying at the end of a hard day to feel like you have had an impact on translating research to new diagnoses or treatments that can really help patients."