The Ana Rukavina Foundation presented the results of the first public tender to award a grant for further professional training which was intended for medical residents or specialists in internal hematology or similar fields at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, published in July 2014, and the Foundation’s Board of Trustees selected Dr. Vibor Milunović from Merkur Clinical Hospital.
Before heading to a one-year professional training, we talked with Dr. Milunović and her great opportunity that was given to him by applying on a tender for professional training of Ana Rukavina Foundation:
1. Dr. Milunović, for starters, tell us something about yourself, your career so far, and your education.
I am still a relatively young “hematologist” in my third year of specializing in hematology at Merkur Clinical Hospital. Education in the medical professions is time-consuming and exhaustive, but rewarding. I graduated from the Faculty of Medicine in Zagreb and then got a job at the Merkur Clinical Hospital. I deal with various patients, primarily in the field of hematological oncology. In my daily work, my hematology team, led by prof.dr.sc. Slobodanka Kolonić Ostojić and prof.dr.sc. Ano Planinc-Peraica treats patients from all over Croatia. The focus of our work is “the patient is first”, which I hope we carry out in our daily practice to the satisfaction of our patients.
2. What motivated you to apply for the public tender of Ana Rukavina Foundation for professional training?
Personally, I believe that every young hematologist from Croatia needs to undergo some degree of education in the centers of excellence in Western Europe or the USA in order to gain insight into the treatment of hematologic patients in developed countries, although I believe that Croatian hematology, despite all the difficulties in its development, does not lag behind world hematology. The Ana Rukavina Foundation has announced a public tender for Georgetown University, specifically Georgetown University Hospital and the Lombardi Comprehensive Center Institute, which in the United States are rated one of the best centers for the treatment and study of cancer. Furthermore, to put it bluntly, my idol, Professor Bruce Cheson works at the said hospital, which was an additional incentive for me to apply for the Foundation’s public tender.
3. What do you expect from 1-year professional training at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., US?
Order, work, discipline. I will try to use a maximum of one year of my training to get acquainted with different approaches to hematology patients from active drug treatment not yet approved in the Republic of Croatia to palliative care, working in a multidisciplinary team consisting not only of doctors and nurses but also others activities such as nutritionists, psychologists, personalized medical care. Also, I expect some interesting progress since I will work in the laboratory and will be introduced to laboratory methods that have not yet come to life in Croatia.
4. Who will be your mentor?
Georgetown University has assigned me, two mentors. The first mentor is Professor Micheal Johnson, who will oversee my work in the lab. He is an eminent expert in basic oncology, that is, he deals with the mechanisms behind why changes in cells that lead to malignancy occur. My second mentor and “idol” is Professor Bruce Cheson, who will guide me through a clinical approach to hematology patients.
5. Tell us more about the program and what exactly will you be doing at Georgetown University for the next year.
My residency program at Georgetown University consists of two parts. The first part is the scientific part. I will study the role of a single enzyme, more specifically, mapping in hematologic neoplasms, primarily those of B-cell origin. Preliminary studies have shown that the role of this enzyme is impaired and could be a prognostic biomarker in these neoplasms. Furthermore, Professor Johnson and his associates have developed a possible substance, which acts on the enzyme and could prove to be one of the options in the treatment of hematological neoplasms in further experiments. The second part is a clinical program run by Professor Cheson. I will participate in this clinical program as part of a team dealing with hematological patients daily. I will get to know the structure of hematology there, work with relatively new medicines, which are not yet available in Croatia, different chemotherapy protocols not used in Croatia. Furthermore, I will be able to learn from leading hematologists in the United States and gain invaluable experience.
6. How can this help to patients in Croatia when you get back?
First of all, with my return to Croatia, I will try to integrate the American experience in working with our patients daily. This may be some treatment option that has not yet come to life in Croatia, some part of supportive care that we sometimes don’t think about, and can mean a lot to our patients. In any case, I will try to integrate the American principle of work into my daily work to maximize the care for our patients.
7. In your opinion, how important are this kind of public tenders, such as the one from Ana Rukavina Foundation, for professional training of young doctors, especially hematologists?
Public tenders for international training are a commendable activity of the Foundation because there is no systematic training within the healthcare system for young hematologists. By providing funding, the Foundation provides a continuing opportunity for young physicians to educate abroad, thereby opening unprecedented opportunities for physicians to advance professionally. I find that every young hematologist, in addition to his education, undergoing specialization, should also have the opportunity to go abroad to experience and participate in work in one of the centers of excellence. To my knowledge, only the Foundation has provided young hematologists with such an opportunity, and I hope it will become a traditional part of the Foundation’s work.
8. And for the end, what is your message for everyone who follows the work of Ana Rukavina Foundation and what can they expect when you come back to Croatia?
I hope that hematologic patients will get a better and more accessible doctor to consult during their battle with hematological disease.
Dr. Milunović is the first candidate to open the door to new generations of physicians eager for knowledge and ongoing training, in the new direction of the Ana Rukavina Foundation after we launched the first public tender for the training of young physicians in the field of hematology and related specializations in July 2014. With this new direction, the Ana Rukavina Foundation wants to enable young physicians to go to world-class centers where they will undertake research work and projects that will help patients with leukemia and lymphoma.
We wish dr. Milunovic a happy journey, valuable experience, and new knowledge to give the patients in the Republic of Croatia the best possible medical care and hope for healing.