Amer Zeidan, MBBS, MHS, an assistant professor of medicine (hematology) at Yale University, shares his story about his journey through training with Oncology Fellows, and talks about landing his dream career.
Amer Zeidan, MBBS, MHS
To help inspire new fellows to pursue their dreams and to reinforce how training will make a huge impact in the future care of patients with cancer, Oncology Fellows recently had the opportunity to speak with Amer Zeidan, MBBS, MHS, an assistant professor of medicine (hematology) at Yale University, to hear his story about his path to landing his dream career.
Dr Zeidan just completed a hematology/oncology fellowship and a clinical research fellowship in myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) at Johns Hopkins University, where he also earned a master of health science degree in clinical investigation. Prior to fellowship, Dr Zeidan completed an internal medicine residency program in Rochester, NY.
What triggered your interest in pursuing a career in hematology?
Before moving to the United States, Dr Zeidan graduated with honors (in 2001) from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Jordan, the country’s oldest and most prestigious medical school. Dr Zeidan’s clinical interest is in the management of myeloid malignancies.Zeidan: As a medical student, my first patient in my first ever hospital rotation was a young kid with a refractory leukemia. I saw him daily for several weeks before he died from his advanced disease. This experience had a major influence on my life direction. Not only did it make me decide to pursue hematologic oncology as a career, but it also played a huge role in my decision to work in clinical research to help find a cure for patients with refractory leukemia.
Now that you have finished fellowship, what are you working on?
During your training, who has influenced your decision to pursue the career that you have chosen?
Aside from finally landing your dream job, what are some of your biggest accomplishments, thus far?
The best place to pursue these academic interests was the United States. I came to the United States in 2004 from my country, Jordan, to gain the necessary knowledge and expertise to become a clinical investigator in the field of refractory hematologic malignancies. I completed my internal medicine internship and residency at Rochester General Hospital, in Rochester, NY, before moving to Johns Hopkins University for my hematology/oncology fellowship.Zeidan: The focus of my clinical/ translational research is the development of novel therapies for MDS, acute myeloid leukemia (AML), and other refractory myeloid malignancies. I have been working on designing and conducting early-phase clinical trials with a special focus on immunotherapeutic and epigenetic approaches. After joining Yale University, I have become the principal investigator in several National Cancer Institute, Cooperative Group, pharma-sponsored, and investigator-initiated early-phase clinical trials. Additionally, I have an ongoing interest in effectiveness research and population-level outcomes research in myeloid malignancies, which I conduct within the Cancer Outcomes, Public Policy, and Effectiveness Research Group at the Yale Cancer Center.Zeidan: I was lucky enough to be guided and mentored at important junctures in my life by several world-renowned scientists and researchers. My first endeavors in clinical research started under the mentorship of Dr Meir Wetzler and Dr Peter Kouides, in Rochester, NY. I subsequently moved to Johns Hopkins University to pursue hematology/ oncology clinical research under the mentorship of Dr Steven Gore and Dr B. Douglas Smith, in the areas of MDS and refractory hematologic malignancies.Zeidan: I have been lucky to be a part of several important projects. I have authored more than 75 peer-reviewed publications, including more than 25 original research papers and several book chapters. I have also presented many abstracts at national and international hematology meetings and have delivered invited presentations at several prestigious institutions both in the United States and abroad.
We are currently in the final steps of analyzing the data of my first investigator-initiated trial using the immune-checkpoint inhibitor, ipilimumab, in refractory MDS/AML. This trial has a special spot in my heart, as it was the first protocol I encountered when I was at Johns Hopkins University before moving to Yale University and opening the trial there, as well. During this process, I have acquired a valuable combination of research skills, including protocol writing, data collection and analysis, and manuscript preparation and presentation. These efforts have resulted in being awarded the “Edward P. Evans Fellow” grant for clinical research by the MDS Clinical Research Consortium and the Aplastic Anemia and MDS International Foundation, and a “Young Investigator Award” by the American Society of Clinical Oncology. I was also able to obtain an institutional “Molecular Targets for Cancer Detection and Treatment Grant (T32) Research Fellowship” grant.
What are you looking forward to in the near future at Yale?
Reflecting back to fellowship, what factors or experiences were most beneficial in establishing your career?
What was one of the most challenging aspects of fellowship? How did you get through it?
What is your advice to those who are just beginning fellowship?
What deciding factors played in a role in your decision to pursue fellowship at Johns Hopkins University?
I feel that my supportive world-renowned mentors, my strong work ethic, determination, solid training, and successful track record in multiple research endeavors render me very well-prepared to effectively replicate, at Yale, the success I enjoyed at Hopkins.Zeidan: My goals, in the next few years, center on ensuring the successful completion of my transition into an independent clinical/ translational investigator in the field of hematologic malignancies, especially MDS. This process involves the conduction of several important investigator-initiated projects as a way of achieving this goal.Zeidan: Connecting with the right mentor was the most important factor in making my career choice. Dr Steven Gore has taken me under his wings and has fostered a great environment for me to explore my full potential in conducting both clinical trials and effectiveness and outcomes research in MDS, which subsequently became the focus of my academic career.Zeidan: Trying to balance my personal and professional lives has always been quite challenging, as it is for many of my peers. This was particularly difficult during fellowship; it was one of the busiest periods of my life. Having a supportive family and great group of friends and mentors has been crucial for me in figuring out how to achieve that balance.Zeidan: To think, from day one, about where they want to be at the end of their fellowship and to work hard during fellowship to achieve that. This is particularly important for those interested in research careers, as it requires thoughtful planning and identifying mentors who can help you find your way early in your fellowship. During a busy fellowship, it is quite easy to get distracted by day-to-day events and find yourself halfway through the fellowship without having thought about your career goals.Zeidan: The reputation of Johns Hopkins as a top-notch science institution and a leader in cancer research, especially in hematologic malignancies, was the most important factor in making my choice to pursue fellowship there. Meeting established and well-known investigators and scientists during the interviews, whom I could foresee being my potential mentors and collaborators, was crucial in making my decision.