Miami CTSI

Common Goals and Persistence Are Building Blocks for Successful Mentoring Partnership


Oriana Damas, M.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine, always knew that her future held a career in medicine. Her father is a doctor in public health, which inspired Damas to pursue a similar trajectory.

As a budding medical student at the University of Miami, Damas was drawn to both research and the field of gastroenterology. Damas had noticed disparities among her female patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and was interested in discovering why those disparities existed, specifically in the Hispanic population.

“I’ve always been inspired that you can help people on an individual level as a physician,” says Damas, who is also the Director of Translational Studies for the Crohn’s and Colitis Center at the Miller School of Medicine. “But as a scientist and a doctor, you can make an even larger impact. I knew I wanted to do both.”

Interested in learning more about the field of gastroenterology and how to get started on research, Damas connected with Maria Abreu, M.D., a seasoned researcher and Martin Kalser Chair of Gastroenterology at University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. A mentorship relationship was born.

“I’m looking for someone with the ‘eye of the tiger’ – you need focus, commitment and drive,” says Abreu, who is also the Director of Crohn’s & Colitis Center. “Dr. Damas is the perfect mentee – she has what it takes to be successful. She follows through on ideas and projects and works hard for everything she achieves.”

Damas benefited from the mentorship of Abreu, recognizing early on that having mentors would have a significant impact on her career.

“Mentorship played such a huge role for me,” says Damas. “The support system offered by Dr. Abreu was crucial as a medical student. It really helped me as I was developing as a physician scientist.”

During her residency, Damas was paired with Ana Palacio, M.D., MPH, associate professor of clinical medicine and co-director of the Resident Scholarly Activity Program as well as the University of Miami Program In Research Education (UMPIRE). Under Dr. Palacio’s guidance, Damas used UMPIRE to help her with grants, statistical analysis and other critical pieces of her research project.

“Damas became very knowledgeable in her field and worked hard at creating a niche for herself,” says Palacio. “One characteristic that has made her a great mentee is that she is always ready to learn something new. She tries to do things on her own but always comes back with the right questions that keep all her mentors on our toes.”

Abreu and Palacio both approach mentorship with similar mindsets. They suggest that potential mentees first understand what aspect of their career needs to be focused on and then clarify their long-term goals. Being aligned on goals and direction helps both the mentor and mentee set up a successful, productive relationship.

Persistence Pays
Not all mentorship relationships take off – and that’s perfectly normal.

“Persistence pays,” says Damas. “You’re not going to get the right mentor for the first time. But eventually you will land with the right mentor who will help propel you and your research ahead.”

Both Abreu and Palacio feel gratified by the significance of Damas’ research and the impact it can have on the Miami community and beyond.

“The key to being a good mentor is something that Maya Angelou recognized: a mentor needs to care,” says Palacio. “This is why we chose to work at the University of Miami – we want to help others develop meaningful lives. As mentors, we can be generous with our time, effort and support.”

For fellow budding researchers, Damas recommends connecting with both a primary/co-primary mentor as well as a team of mentors. She has found it beneficial to have mentors in a variety of fields – including career, research and statistical analysis.

“Dr. Abreu and Dr. Palacio were like my little engines,” says Damas. “They provided the tools and content to help me move forward.”

CTSI Resources for UM Researchers
The Miami CTSI’s Connection for Research Career Enhancement is a unique program for K and K-like awardees. Damas and other early stage investigators like her participate in networking, group learning, information exchange and mentorship training.

Researchers can also tap into additional CTSI services such as assistance with grants and research writing, clinical trial resources and connections with community partners.

Not only has Damas benefitted tremendously from her mentoring relationships, but she has also paid it forward with up-and-coming physician scientist residents, serving as a research mentor to help facilitate the resident’s professional goals and growth. She acts as a sounding board, a champion and a guide to help others successfully navigate the complex path of developing a research career.

“The road to becoming a physician scientist is not necessarily an easy one,” says Damas. “But if you’re true to your goals and really want to accomplish it, it’s worth it. It’s so rewarding to get a grant or publication and to discover something that directly relates to helping your patients.”

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