Campus & Community

Shore Fellowship affords breathing room

5 min read

Busy fellows grateful for extra assistance

The weekend was hectic for physician Rhonda Bentley-Lewis: two full days of activities, including her son’s birthday party. Then came the trip to the emergency room, not to attend to a patient, but to Christian, the 11-year-old birthday boy, and his broken wrist.

“It’s always something,” sighed Bentley-Lewis, the mother of two — her son (who is doing fine), and her 7-year-old daughter Candace. She also has a baby on the way, another boy, due in January.

Add to the mix her husband Eldrin Lewis’ busy life as a cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), and things get complicated. Without family in the area to help — she hails from New York, he from Pennsylvania — their lives have been an extreme exercise in work-life balance.

“It’s been a lot of planning and some trial and error,” she said. “I’ve gone through everything from nannies to family friends to au pairs, trying to make sure that we have enough support to keep all of us happy.”

The schedule is a familiar one for many young doctors who are managing the rigors of a medical career and a family. But for some, including Bentley-Lewis, an instructor at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and associate physician at BWH, help is in sight.

Bentley-Lewis is a recipient of the Eleanor and Miles Shore 50th Anniversary Fellowship Program for Scholars in Medicine. She joins 88 junior faculty members, clinicians, and researchers who will receive the 2008 grants that range from $25,000 to $30,000 and typically last one year.

The program was established in 1995 to honor the 50th anniversary of the admission of women to HMS. To date, the fellowship component of the program, which began a year later as a way to support junior faculty, has honored 600 recipients with more than $13 million.

The awards were designed with young doctors in mind, those in the early stages of their careers who are often in need of additional financial support, manpower, and added time to complete research projects, prepare manuscripts, or publish papers — frequently while treating patients, and often while caring for a family.

For Bentley-Lewis, who works at BWH in the division of endocrine diabetes and hypertension, the award has enabled her to devote time to her clinical research on cardiovascular disease risk factors in women.

With her one-year $30,000 grant, Bentley-Lewis hired a research assistant to coordinate her work on the occurrence of diabetes during pregnancy, gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM), and her study on the relationship of race and ethnicity to the incidence of the disease.

????As one compares the prevalence of GDM across racial/ethnic groups, one observes a higher prevalence of GDM among women of Asian, Hispanic, and African-American descent compared to non-Hispanic white populations,” said Bentley-Lewis, who also noted that GDM is a predictor of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

In addition, Bentley-Lewis said the fellowship afforded her the time to “manage my clinical and family responsibilities,” and to apply for a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. She is currently a finalist for a four-year, $420,000 award from the organization, which, she said, will help her extend her current research.

“Because I am so early in my career, the Shore Fellowship is critical to my ability to not only continue the work I am doing now, but to help me work toward establishing independence as a clinical investigator. That’s what it’s all about, taking deliberate steps forward along this path toward independence. I am extremely grateful for the support the Shore award has provided.”

A love of research, a dangerous virus, and experiences during his pediatric residency all cemented Asim Ahmed’s desire to work with infectious diseases in children.

“Sometimes you don’t realize what you are getting into, then a light bulb goes off and you realize your future vocation, what you are driven by,” said the instructor at HMS and pediatric infectious disease specialist at Children’s Hospital Boston.

Near the end of his residency, Ahmed, who grew up in St. Louis, conducted research on the West Nile virus, a mosquito-borne illness that produces flu-like symptoms and, in serious cases, can be fatal.

Soon after, during his pediatric infectious disease fellowship in the early months of his pediatric rotation, Ahmed encountered a number of young patients with eastern equine encephalitis, a virus similar to West Nile, but more serious, one that often causes permanent brain damage or death.

“It affected my outlook on what it means to be a physician,” said Ahmed. “To see a child and their family go through something like that was incredibly compelling.”

Ahmed, who was awarded a two-year, $50,000 grant as part of the Shore program, will use the funding to study how such viruses gain entry into cells where they then multiply. His work, he said, not only offers insight into understanding how the viruses operate, but also into possible treatments.

“This kind of research gives you a basic understanding of the first step that is important to the viral life cycle. In addition, that initial point in the life cycle can be a target for intervention.”

For Ahmed, the Shore Fellowship provides the kind of essential funding that will both allow him to expand his work and time in the lab, as well as hire a research assistant in the following year.

“This kind of support early in one’s career is really critical,” he said. “It allows you to transition to an independent career as a physician scientist.”