ASTCT asked Dianna Sue Howard, M.D. questions about what it is like to be a woman in the transplantation and cellular therapy field in celebration of Women's History Month, March 2021.
Who inspired you to enter the BMT and cellular therapy field?
I was inspired by Gordon Phillips and Donna Reece. Dr Phillips was the Director of the BMT Program at the University of Kentucky when I was in fellowship. I trained in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics and was very interested in hematologic malignancies across the age spectrum, especially leukemia. My first month of fellowship I worked with Dr Phillips and I knew from then that was where I belonged. I remember staying late in the evening to do a thoracentesis on a patient, and Dr Phillips was there until the procedure was completed. He was a great evidence-based teacher, encouraged me early on to turn clinical questions into research, and he pushed the boundaries of the status quo. Dr Reece taught me the value of rigor in outpatient care and guidelines based management. Dr Phillips has remained a life-long mentor. I was also inspired by Dr Craig Jordan, a stem cell biologist, who accepted me as a novice into his lab and introduced me to translational research. Working in the Jordan lab was an incredibly valuable and rewarding experience. Dr Jordan is a brilliant mentor. I am grateful to these colleagues for guiding me into a career that has been so rewarding.
How do you inspire others?
As the Director of the Stem Cell Transplant and Cell Therapy program at Wake Forest I believe I inspire others through my passion and commitment to advocacy for patients, breaking barriers to access, and a methodical approach to improving systems to deliver quality care and improved outcomes. I hope that I make being the director of a program look like loads of fun! My colleagues at Wake Forest know that a highlight of the last couple of years for me has been in serving as Chair of the ASTCT Government Relations Committee. Whether it is engaging my colleagues in writing comment letters, discussing how we can influence health policy makers, or advocating on behalf of patients – I hope I have inspired others to play a role.
What does it mean to you to be a woman in this field?
It means I have a responsibility to show up, be engaged, and lead. The number of women in the field have increased in the time I have been in transplant – which is fantastic. I remember seeing Mary Horowitz on the stage and being both in awe and inspired – inspired to be more in my institution and in transplant. I am here, doing what I do, because of the women who have achieved, inspired and been visible in transplant. They made me believe I could and should do more. I have benefitted from people throughout my career that have championed diversity and inclusion. When Navneet Majhail asked me to Chair the GR Committee I was so struck by the intentional inclusion of women and new leadership in the committee chair roles. Being a woman in transplant means I have had the opportunity to learn, give, and grow among amazing people.