ATS Conference 2016: Building Strong Mentor-Mentee Relationships, The Secret to Creating Research Experts in Africa

In a recent symposium during the 2016 annual conference of the American Thoracic Society (ATS), the strategic role of mentorship in the building of leaders in research in Africa was emphasized.

Dr. Obaseki, a graduate of the ATS well known research program, tagged Methods in Epidemiological, Clinical and Operational Research (MECOR), highlighted the immense impact a dedicated mentor could have on the career path of a young investigator in a developing country. In a talk titled ‘Capacity Building in Developing Countries:  Challenges and Opportunities on the Ground’, he used a number of case stories to describe how the processes involved in nurturing a mentor-mentee relationship could over time create a strong culture in research in Africa. He also stressed that young researchers who benefit from a consistent mentoring seem to have better outcomes in their research career.

From a informal introduction to the first Pan African Thoracic Society (PATS) MECOR course in 2007, Maxwell Akanbi found Professor Stephen Gordon as a research mentor and emerged as one of the notable graduates in that year’s MECOR course. He subsequent received a Royal College of Physicians award for further training in Spirometry in the UK and a Forgarty award for a Masters course on Clinical Investigation at the Northwestern University, Chicago, USA. He also won the ATS foundation award to study the Burden of COPD among patients with HIV. He is well published including notably one of the first recognized reviews on the burden of respiratory diseases in Nigeria. As an outflow of the mentorship he received from Professor Stephen Gordon, director of PATS MECOR, he has become a mentor to several other colleagues. Currently he is undertaking a PhD program at the Northwestern University.

Another vivid illustration used by Dr Obaseki to show the impact of a mentor in shaping a mentee’s career, is the role Professor Heather Zar of University of Cape town, South Africa has played in crafting the career development of Dr Adaeze Ayuk, a consultant paediatric pulmonologist in the University of Nigeria.  From a simple introduction by Professor Emerita Sonia A Buist, the global director of MECOR, in 2008, the relationship between Prof Zar and Dr Ayuk became a truly outstanding opportunity for Dr Ayuk to hone her clinical skills, meet new colleagues and acquire very useful research experience. She also received an unparalleled opportunity to undergo paediatric pulmonary specialty training at the University of Cape town. Today, Dr Ayuk is back in Nigeria, leading the paediatric pulmonary unit in her institution and mentoring several young trainees.

Dr. Obaseki cited other case stories including the impact Professor Sonia Buist has had on his own career development. From his first PATS MECOR course in 2008, Sonia Buist took interest in his work, introduced him to Prof Peter Burney of the National Heart and Lung Institute, London, and the BOLD initiative. Dr Obaseki later received the prestigious and highly celebrated Wellcome Trust award to conduct the first population study on the Burden of COPD in West Africa. Currently, he is a mentor to several other younger colleagues, a prolific writer with publications in notable peer reviewed journals that has made a tremendous impact on the practice of respiratory care in developing countries.

In addition to the role of mentorship, he also called for more training in grantsmanship and short research fellowships in centres of excellence as other key ingredients for improving research in the African continent.

Further details on that symposium titled “Global Health:  The What, Where, and Why in the 21st Century “ can be found in the ATS website -  www.thoracic.org.

 DANIEL OBASEKI MD FWACP MPH
Attending Pulmonary Physician
Obafemi Awolowo University HospitalIle-Ife, Nigeria.