In the world of geriatric medicine, Carmel Bitondo Dyer, MD, is a name many in the field immediately recognize. She has appeared before Congress, served on multiple national advisory panels, and published hundreds of studies on topics such as elder mistreatment and interprofessional geriatric teams. Her research has changed lives, and so has her mentorship. She has influenced many – including her colleague, Jessica Lee, MD.
Most recently, the two physicians served as co-investigators for a Phase III clinical trial at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) assessing if a potential vaccine was effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19. However, Lee’s experience learning from Dyer dates back to her high school years, when Lee shadowed Dyer and decided that she wanted to pursue a career in geriatric medicine.
“I saw a newspaper article about some work Dr. Dyer was doing for older adults, and I decided to email and ask if I could shadow her,” said Lee, who was a student at Clear Lake High School at the time. “I continued to shadow her throughout my summers in undergrad at The University of Texas at Austin, and was introduced to all aspects of geriatric medicine – inpatient, outpatient clinics, skilled nursing and rehab, house calls. It was so cool, because each summer I would come home to Houston from Austin and keep learning from her.”
Lee said that with Dyer’s encouragement, she also decided to pursue a career in research. “She was my first introduction into geriatric research, and I was able to work on a small pilot project with her in 2004 that was ultimately my first publication,” she said.
Now the two have spent the last seven years working together in academic medicine. Dyer is the Nancy P. and Vincent F. Guinee, MD, Distinguished Chair at UTHealth, and the Roy M. and Phyllis Gough Huffington Chair in Gerontology and professor in the Joan and Stanford Alexander Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. Lee is an assistant professor of geriatric and palliative medicine. The two are both members of the Consortium on Aging at UTHealth, which Dyer leads as executive director.
Dyer understands the value of mentorship, especially for women interested in pursuing a career in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics fields. “Of course, role models and mentors are important in every field. For us in medicine or other STEM fields, exposing potential students and mentees to meaningful experiences with persons active in the workplace really helps them to visualize what their lives and careers could be like,” Dyer said.
In 2017, Dyer was recognized for her work in the field of geriatric medicine as well as her mentorship of countless physicians when she received the UTHealth President’s Scholar Award for Clinical Service.
Dyer said that watching those she has mentored flourish in their careers is equally rewarding. “Dr. Lee’s dedication and drive, even as a high school graduate, was superb. Her drive to succeed is not for herself, but for her patients and the patients that will be helped by her research. And now she has become a mentor for others,” Dyer said.
Lee encourages those who want to pursue a field in research, especially young girls, to keep chasing that dream, even if it feels hard. “The rewards you will see when your program gets off the ground or your hard work is finally published, it’s all worth it. Lean on those people who support and mentor you, and don’t give up.”
Dyer echoed that sentiment. “As discovery and technology continue to advance, kindness and compassion are staples that will serve every patient. Women that become adept at the science, as well as the art of medicine, will have long and rewarding careers,” she said.
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