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Postdoctoral Clinical Fellow, Section of Pediatric Cardiology, Department of Pediatrics Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics Instructor in Pediatrics
Baylor College of Medicine Texas Children’s HospitalVIEW PROFILE
In a world of Mayo alumni overachievers, Andrew Landstrom, M.D., Ph.D., is an overachiever’s overachiever. He’s simultaneously completing postdoctoral clinical and research fellowships at Baylor College of Medicine in pediatric cardiology and molecular physiology/biophysics, respectively. He’ll finish the three-year clinical fellowship this summer and a five-year research fellowship in 2018. Next year he’ll train in electrophysiology and start a basic science research lab at Texas Children’s Hospital, focusing on determining the genetic and molecular causes of arrhythmias, cardiomyopathies and heart failure in children. He recently received a mentored clinical scientist development award (K08) from the National Institutes of Health.
It’s a very competitive research grant and a big deal to me that I was fortunate enough to get it. Applying for it while I’m still a fellow wasn’t easy due to time constraints and things competing for attention. It’s a five-year training grant to start a lab with protected research time. I’m honored to receive it.
In pediatric cardiology you have the opportunity to do a lot of good. Along with a good surgeon and colleagues, you can intervene with kids who otherwise will die and save their lives sometimes with medicine and sometimes with surgeries. The diseases I’m interested in are genetic diseases that present when children are young, and there’s the chance to do a lot of good if one can identify and treat children at risk for sudden death-predisposing diseases.
This type of training pathway is a little atypical among purely clinical training programs, and it takes a long time and can be challenging. Baylor College of Medicine has supported me throughout. In most clinical fellowships, you hold a pager. In most research fellowships, you’re in the lab for long hours. Doing both simultaneously requires a focus on what one wants to achieve and a lot of caffeine.
It helps that my research is synergistic with my clinical practice, so I’m not studying two different things. I study arrhythmias in patients in the clinic and then study the electrical heart defect in the lab.
Mayo does medical education very differently. It’s a massive hospital with a relatively small medical school and small class size, many professors, many patients and clinically relevant research. Bringing all of those resources to bear for medical training presents an incredible opportunity to learn as a medical student and trainee.
Leaving Mayo after eight years was one of the hardest decisions I have had to make. It required a lot of conversations with many people, both academic mentors and close family members. But overall I felt that leaving Mayo was an opportunity to view my training from a different perspective. I had a great opportunity to do clinical and research fellowships at the same time at a high-volume hospital — Texas Children’s Hospital.
You never really leave Mayo, and Mayo’s training never really leaves you. It laid the ground work for how I approach difficult situations and families, and I use the lessons given to me every day in my interactions with patients and families.
Michael Ackerman, M.D., Ph.D. (MDPD ’95, PHAR ’95, PD, ’98, PDC ’00), was my research mentor at Mayo, and we keep in touch. He really inspired me to make research part of my career and helped my passion in genetics and biology come alive during my M.D./Ph.D. training. At Baylor, I am continuing to move forward with the research that I am passionate about. Dr. Ackerman continues to give advice and remains interested in my progress.
I think about it a lot, especially when there’s a push and pull between academic life and my family.
But my job never seems like a job. I get strength and energy from my patients and my research. Caring for very sick — even dying — children, seeing them do well, and having their parents high-five and hug me makes me want to work another 30-hour shift. I might make more money doing other things but would not love it as much.
I spend most of my free time with my sons, ages 10 and 6, who have grown up during my training. We love to take advantage of the things that Houston has to offer like going to the Houston Space Center and the Houston Zoo as well as exploring other parts of Texas. On Saturdays or during days off if I work the weekend, we have “man time” — my dedicated time for them. My wife also likes it because she gets a break. The boys pick our activities, and we all look forward to this time together when work does not encroach.
We have a tendency to look down the road and think, “Life will be so much better when I graduate, when I finish my residency, etc.” Enjoy your training journey, and you’ll get more out of it. Enjoy the process — not what’s at the end of the tunnel.