ASTCT Leadership Course Shapes the Next Generation of Change Makers

Like most, Rayne Rouce, MD, BS, has faced more than a few challenges this year.

As the pandemic raged, Rouce—an assistant professor in the Texas Children’s Hospital Department of Pediatrics in the Cancer and Hematology Centers Bone Marrow Transplant and Stem Cell Transplant Program—faced situations she had never experienced before. Luckily for her, she had a strong cohort to lean on. Rouce is part of the 2020 class of ASTCT’s Leadership Course, an interactive experience for developing leaders to hone their skills both in and out of the field.

“COVID-19 and 2020 were trial by fire,” she said. “The ASTCT Leadership Course gave us as budding leaders a lot of real time challenges we could bring into the course. It wasn’t just hypothetical.”

ASTCT’s Leadership Course typically occurs over a several day period, and features expert lecturers to discuss different leadership scenarios within the space of cellular transplantation and therapy. This year, the pandemic forced the cohort online. Sessions that typically would happen concurrently were spread out over longer periods, allowing participants to chime in on events as they were happening in real time.

The course is a covered by ASTCT’s charitable fund, which gives money to a wide range of society initiatives.

Rouce first applied to the Leadership Course pre-pandemic. As an emerging leader at Texas Children’s, Rouce has been moving up in her own career and helping others along the way as well. And while she has a plethora of leadership experience under her belt, she wanted something to take her to the next level.

“Most of the leadership courses I’ve heard about in the past were either geared toward people who were very junior or very senior,” she said. “There’s a big gap of people who are in the middle. Everyone who participated in the course had some sort of leadership role at the time, but you could see they were getting ready to take on a bigger role. That’s what really excited me.”

At first, she was disappointed the in-person course was cancelled. But she quickly learned that having others to lean on throughout the year was pivotal—especially the experienced workshop faculty that spanned a wide breadth of experiences.

“COVID-19 was something that all of us, no matter how much it was on your radar before it really hit the US, challenged you to see the decisions leaders have to make,” she said. “It laid the groundwork to get something special and unique out of the course.”

They covered topics like looking critically at finances, how to have hard conversations with staff and how to lead amid crisis. There were also more pointed conversations relating to specific areas in the field of cellular transplantation. As someone who comes from a cellular therapy background, Rouce was impressed that faculty took the time to look at each participants’ professional experience and craft specific scenarios to them.

She also said her cohort was made up of people from all over the country with unique stories. Getting to know them and hearing their perspectives gave her a deeper appreciation of the society.

“I can’t say that I necessarily appreciated how much this was needed until after I was in the course,” she said. “I didn’t quite appreciate the nuance of this course and that everyone going in had similar experience on similar levels, but also had such unique perspectives. We actually spoke candidly and learned something from each other and not just the people that were leading.”

It's also reinforced the importance of mentorship. Rouce is a Black woman, and said during her career, she didn’t have many other Black women to look up to for guidance. As she embraces her own leadership roles, she hopes she can inspire young Black women and women of color to pursue a career in cellular therapy and transplantation.

“I think the most important thing I can do in my life is to be able to pave the way for someone else,” she said. “And, for me, having ASTCT believe in me, believe in the fact that I could ascend to a leadership position, having them invite me to have a seat at the table and knowing it creates a path for lots of Black and Brown girls is something that’s difficult to put into words. Until you see yourself in that position, you may not know you can be in that position.”

Interested in giving to ASTCT? Make a contribution to fund ASTCT programs like the Leadership Course. You can also make a donation in the name of a mentor in your life.