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Mentor Spotlight: Dr. Michael M. Haglund

Tuesday, July 31, 2018   (0 Comments)
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Michael M. Haglund, MD, PhD, MACM, FAANS, FCS (ECSA) is a Distinguished Professor of Neurosurgery and the Residency Program Director at the Department of Neurosurgery at Duke University Medical Center. Outside of the operating room, he heads the Division of Duke Global Neurosurgery and Neurology (DGNN), through which I had the opportunity to receive his guidance.

While I have decided to pursue a career in a different specialty since the interview, his continued guidance has been instrumental in finding mentors in my chosen specialty of interest. I extend my gratitude to Dr. Haglund for allowing me to share his perspective on mentorship and gender bias issues within a larger community.

In 2007, Dr. Haglund returned to Duke after experiencing the death of his patient in Uganda. The patient's oxygen ventilator turned off overnight when the city lost power. Unfortunately, this was not a unique situation to the people of Uganda. While reasons are multifactorial and complex, a shortage of medical staff and trained residents to manage a high volume of patients in emergency situations likely contributed to this regrettable outcome. He channeled his frustration and empathy to lay the groundwork for Duke's collaboration with Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda. Establishing this relationship was key in expanding the number of neurosurgery residents and placing them into areas with unmet needs, building infrastructure at Mulago Hospital, including intensive care unit beds, and, subsequently, growing neurosurgical capacity in Uganda.

DGNN has evolved with the relentless leadership and dedication of two graduate students, Anthony Fuller and Tu Tran, who have become close friends of mine since I joined the group in 2016. Dr. Haglund recalls, that when envisioning the big picture for DGNN, he wanted it to be a group of people who can offer diverse expertise and mentorship to students at all levels of training. When asked about his motivation, he commented on his personal experience as an MD/PhD student working in Dr. Richard Winn's lab at the University of Washington. While he had the autonomy to design and execute experiments, he regretted the lack of opportunities to collaborate with others. He added, "Your legacy isn't necessarily what you did, but who you trained." Since its inception, DGNN has grown from three to 68 people, and includes more than 20 female students mentored by Dr. Haglund, as well as the members of DGNN faculty across disciplines. The group is funded primarily by research grants and has a number of collaboration projects that are supported by Duke's Department of Neurosurgery as well as Uganda's Ministry of Health and Mulago Hospital.

DGNN is not the sole avenue through which Dr. Haglund mentors students and trainees, however. He has made it his personal, long-term goal to ensure that there are more female neurosurgeons in leadership roles. "Right now, there is one female chair of neurosurgery [in the country]. That's a tough glass ceiling to break through – but it's a matter of time," he continued, "the first step in changing this is recognizing that there is a problem. Women shouldn't be viewed as different but the reality is that they are. Being equal to their male counterparts is not enough." Applying this idea to working with female medical students and residents, Dr. Haglund focuses on cultivating skills that will make them stand out. "My feeling at the end is that excellence, passion, curiosity, and innovation will win out no matter what gender, race, sexual identity [you are]."

In response to the question, "What is your recipe for successful mentoring?" Dr. Haglund said, "You need to take a personal interest in that person [as a learner]." He explained that in the research setting, he ensures success by providing guidance on projects but encouraging his students to take the lead in planning and executing them, allowing room for failure, and sharing feedback after missteps. In the clinical setting, this translates to teaching his residents to seize opportunities to hone their clinical skills and take their learning to the next level, whether it is through a research fellowship or clinical exchange program. "[When my expertise isn't enough], I put them in contact with people who can further help them grow their strengths and overcome their weaknesses."

Dr. Haglund emphasized, "20 years from now, I hope that you [among other female leaders] are the person talking to the students about their path to neurosurgery because that's where things will change. Once you're at the top of the pyramid, you have to work hard to include everybody, including all the men, in the discussion."


Ashley Choi is the Vice Chair of the AWS National Medical Student Committee and a third-year medical student at Duke University School of Medicine. She plans to train as an academic cardiothoracic surgeon and improve the care of patients with end-stage heart and lung disease.