Training a Next Generation of Doctors

Marilyn Telen has been training hematologists for over 20 years

Marilyn Telen stops to photograph a group of Indian school kids during a visit to the country in August 2015. Photo courtesy of Marilyn Telen.
Marilyn Telen stops to photograph a group of Indian school kids during a visit to the country in August 2015. Photo courtesy of Marilyn Telen.

Name: Marilyn TelenPosition: Professor of medicine, Department of MedicineYears at Duke: 35 years

What I do at Duke: As a hematologist, I spend most of my time doing research. I initially started out as a basic researcher and over the years have grown into more translational and clinical research. For the last 20 years, it’s been about sickle cell disease. My division is now finishing our 40th year of a grant for training hematologists and will received funding for the next five years. I’ll have been responsible for 25 years of that to train the next generation of hematologists.

If I had $5 million, I would: There are lots of things I’d like to do for myself, but I can afford them, like travel. I do a lot of traveling in the Third World and spend a lot of my time doing photography for my blog, MD on the Road. I’d want to spend the money in the field of medical research or help refugees. I know $5 million is a drop in the bucket, but it could help real people.

My first ever job: My first real job was working as the Asian and Soviet Bloc editor for Collier’s Encyclopedia. I studied Russian and Chinese and Asian studies in college and was a philosophy major. I worked for a professor who was an editor at Random House, so I had exposure to publishing. I stayed at that job for about a year-and-a-half before getting another editorial job.

My dream job: A job that would allow me to influence health policy. I’ve spent 35 years doing the microcosm thing – detailed basic research and work with patients. I think there are a lot of global issues in health and medicine that are important, so I’d love to switch gears and see the big picture.

The best advice I ever received: ‘Keep your head down and be good at what you do.’ That came to me from a laboratory mentor right after I had my second child. It meant to pay attention to what I was doing and not to worry about institutional politics or what other people were doing. At that point in my life, I didn’t know whether it was going to be possible to have a family and a career, but it turned out to be very good advice. 

What I love about Duke: The people I come into contact with are all dedicated to what they do and open to exchanging ideas. They’re open to collaboration and can be very entrepreneurial to embark on new enterprises. I’m not sure if that’s true everywhere like it is at Duke.

If I could have one superpower, it would be: To have more energy and need less sleep. I never have enough time and energy for everything I want to do. 

Something most people dont know about me: That I write a blog. I started it during a Fulbright Scholar Program in 2010 when I was teaching in Russia. I was encouraged to blog about it, so I started without much photography. Then I transitioned it into more of writing about travel and using my photographs to illustrate it. India is probably one of my favorite places to visit. It’s very colorful and a photographer’s dream because people aren’t very concerned about personal space and privacy.