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Welcome to The Medicine Mentors interview series. Our mission is to create a platform for top physician mentors to share key insights, traits and best practices based on their experiences to guide medical students and residents.

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Aug 11, 2023

Karen Ballen, MD, is a Professor of Medicine at the University of Virginia. She serves as the Chief of Hematology/Oncology. Dr. Ballen is an international expert in stem cell transplants, particularly for patients who have a difficult time finding a donor. She started one of the first umbilical cord blood banks in the United States with the American Red Cross. Her research focuses on access to transplant care. She is the Chair of the Cord Blood Advisory Committee for the National Marrow Donor Program and has served multiple leadership roles for the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research.

Bludgeoning our way through medical questions might bereave us of an indispensable aspect of the patient history: the social history. “When I meet a new patient, I say, ‘I've read your records, and I've talked to your referring physician, but why don't you tell me your story?’ And it's very open-ended, and it gives them five or 10 minutes to just go.” To derive key insights from the subtle hints our patients give us in between their stories, join us for today’s episode of The Medicine Mentors as we learn about the patient-doctor exchange from Dr. Karen Ballen.

Pearls of Wisdom:
1. At each stage of the journey, mentorship is very important in terms of [deciding] where to devote energy and time, but maybe even more importantly, where not to.
2. Often in medicine, we try to shield our personal life from our professional life, but sharing some of those personal stories and asking for support when we need it will help us create an environment of support and trust.
3. When we meet a new patient, we should keep the conversation open-ended by saying, “I've read your records and I've talked to your referring physician, but why don't you tell me your story?”