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National Mentoring Month Spotlight: Drs. Efrén Flores and Elyse Park Share Mentorship Lessons on Research and Life

, by CRCHD Staff

In recognition of National Mentoring Month, CRCHD is recognizing mentor-mentee pairs on our blog and social media. In this blog post, we interview Efrén J. Flores, M.D., and his mentor, Elyse R. Park, Ph.D., M.P.H. Dr. Flores recently received a CURE K08 Mentored Clinical Scientist Research Career Development Award that will support his work to increase early detection of lung cancer in Hispanic and other vulnerable populations.

What is your research about?

Efrén J. Flores, M.D.

Efrén J. Flores, M.D.

EF: My research focuses on improving disparities in lung cancer outcomes through early detection with lung cancer screening (LCS) among historically underserved communities. Particularly, my NCI-funded research through the K08 focuses on improving access to LCS among Latino/Hispanic communities by improving smoking history documentation and leveraging a multimodal LCS digital outreach campaign. I am a Latino physician-scientist who has experienced the loss of close relatives to lung cancer. Therefore, this project is mission-driven as the personal significance of this project goes beyond research.

How did you form this mentoring relationship?

EF: By failing up! I was introduced to Dr. Park through a common colleague in psychiatry, Derri Shtasel, M.D., M.P.H., who learned about my early work through an internal grant that did not get funded. She suggested meeting Dr. Park and Kelly Irwin, M.D., as we all had in common a focus on improving equitable access to cancer care. This meeting led to an open discussion about potential ideas, which led to working together on a successful internal grant proposal as the beginning of an incredibly rewarding mentorship relationship.

What makes the relationship work?

EP: We have a mutual respect, meeting structure, and commitment to each other. We learn from each other along the way. We each trust that the other is giving 100% effort.

Elyse R. Park, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Elyse R. Park, Ph.D., M.P.H.

What can you tell us about each other as a mentor and mentee?

EF: More than research mentorship, Dr. Park provides mentorship about life in general. She creates an open, collaborative space for discussion of ideas, and this openness creates key opportunities to synergize work across disciplines. Even though sometimes I may bring ideas not fully developed, Dr. Park is an expert at distilling concepts and identifying building blocks that will lead to great research projects.

Dr. Park values everyone’s input and, despite being an incredibly accomplished researcher, she is always open to exploring new opportunities and ideas with people while making us feel that we are meaningfully contributing to research projects. Dr. Park leads by example, as she is generous with her time, advice, and sharing her knowledge with me and other mentees.

EP: Dr. Flores is a stellar mentee. As a radiologist with extensive clinical expertise, he sought training in health services research. It is unique to find a clinician of his stature who is willing to become a student again. Dr. Flores, motivated by his passion to bring preventive care to all, delved in with all of his effort to achieve research skills. He is mastering grant writing, qualitative analyses, and disseminating research results. He is a quick and active learner and inspirational speaker. His research is fueled by his commitment to help vulnerable populations, and he is highly effective.

Dr. Flores, how did this mentorship further prepare you to acquire your CURE K08?

EF: The mentorship from Dr. Park has been transformational, as she has opened doors to her network of collaborators and opportunities to actively work on funded research with her. I was fortunate to be a recipient of an NCI research diversity supplement to work with Dr. Park and her colleagues on an NCI-funded R01 that integrates tobacco cessation into LCS. My work focused on increasing the recruitment of Latino participants into the parent clinical trial. This protected research time allowed me to gain research skills and gather preliminary data that became the basis for my K08 proposal. My long-term goal is to continue expanding the mentorship and collaborations I have from Dr. Park and my co-mentors, Ruth Carlos, M.D., M.S., FACR, and Dr. Irwin, to successfully complete the K08 project and transition into a collaborative R01 proposal also aimed at improving lung cancer outcomes.

What are the most important takeaways from your mentoring experience?

EF: Dr. Park has taught me the importance of finding the intersection of my passion, my mission, with my research. Defining your why is as important as defining your research question, as this allows for the best work to come forward. Research and life are full of ups and downs. Dr. Park always maintains a positivity that is contagious, while sprinkling wise life advice and wisdom in everything she does. Dr. Park deeply cares about the people she works with and focuses on forming nontransactional, longitudinal relationships that are transparent and aimed at personal and professional growth. She has opened doors for career development for me and many more mentees. This has set an example that I aim to follow by paying it forward to mentees during my career.

Dr. Park, what are the top messages you impart as a mentor?

EP: Research what you are passionate about. Research is hard and takes creativity and stamina to overcome ongoing challenges. Your research makes a difference. Build transdisciplinary teams of individuals who will flourish together.

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