Week's Person

Person of the Week: Dr. Stephan Moll

By Malvika Sawant, Radhika Kulkarni, and Rishima Sharma, Global Thrombosis Forum

Dear Readers,

In this interview series we ask questions to people who are making a difference in our society, it can be big, it can be small, it doesn’t matter, what matters is their contribution. It can be anyone from any walk of life and from any country. Please, do send us suggestions of people whom you think we should interview for this series.

Stephan Moll, MD, is a World-renowned Physician-Hematologist, and a member of the Faculty of University of North Carolina.  Dr. Moll was born in Germany and then migrated to the U.S.

Following is the transcript of the virtual interview that GTF students did with Dr.Moll

Malvika: Dr. Moll, we understand that you came to the U.S. from Germany. Could you please give us your background in Germany?

Dr. Moll: Yes, of course! I was one of the 4 children; the 3 oldest siblings are boys, I have a younger sister. Both my parents are pediatricians (I come from a family with a medical background). I grew up in a rural town, and went to my school by bike, I did not need a car. I engaged in lots of activities, particularly academically. I had a reasonably good childhood education. When I was 16, I was an exchange student for one year with Youth for Understanding. I was placed in the state of Utah with my exchange family for senior year. I went to college/final year of high school in Germany. I studied medicine for 6 yrs, did rotations, medical clerkships (3 of which were in England). I took off for 6 months and bought a motorcycle. I traveled through the U.S. with a tent and my motorcycle. I went back to Germany and continued back for 2 and ½ years. I started my training in Pathology for 1 ½ yrs and picked up teaching. I passed ECFMG (the qualifying examination to get a medical training in the U.S.), and did my residency in the U.S. The independence/structured education in the U.S. appealed to me. I wanted to do residency near mountains. I got invited for an interview at Duke University (I didn’t really know what Duke University was, I only applied because it was near the Appalachian Mountains). I was familiar with travelling, so I didn’t feel like an outsider. Fortunately, I got a glowing letter of recommendation. I spoke fluent English when I moved to the U.S., since it is a very common  practice inGermany to teach English along with German.

Malvika: When did you move to the U.S.?

Dr. Moll: I  moved to the U.S. in 1989. I did my residency and fellowship at Duke University for 3 years. This was my favorite time in my professional career. I met my wife, Jackie here. I decided to pursue the speciality of hematology/oncology (commonly referred to as hem/onc) here. I was 30 years old. I had served military time in Germany. I took off 1 yr after residency and went to Bolivia and bicycled across South America. I came back to Duke and completed my fellowship in 1996. I like that hematology is more varied than organ specific specialities, such as Cardiology, or Gastroenterology. I therefore engaged specifically in Oncology.

Malvika: Could you please explain the difference in the culture between Germany and the U.S.?

Dr. Moll: Both countries have western cultures. Germany has less room for individualism.  In Germany, it is easily possible to visit other cultures (France, Switzerland, etc). The life in Germany is closer together, towns are close together. In the U.S., everything is so spread out, everything is independent. To some degree, I like the independence in the U.S. The U.S. had much more social outings: games, proms, clubs, etc. There were no clubs/social activities in Germany.

Malvika: Could you talk about your experiences during college and medical school and in training?

Dr. Moll: I consider myself not to be a good medical student. I enjoyed my freedom.  I didn’t do very well in certain subjects. I took a particular interest in Pathology. I like that the profession of Medicine is like a detective activity. Oncology is not detective work. The most memorable case I worked with was a young woman, about 21-22 yrs old. She was referred to me for heavy menstrual bleeding and the diagnosis of bleeding disorder but didn’t respond to treatment. I was sure that it wasn’t a blood disorder, in fact, she had a polyp! I therefore would describe this as a satisfying experience in my profession that I could provide an accurate diagnosis for this patient. I took guitar lessons since I love playing guitar to relax.

Malvika: How was the transition from Germany to America?

Dr. Moll: My transition was mixed. I was welcomed by the U.S. with open arms. The family I stayed with didn’t agree with me, we did not get along well. I had a good residency experience. I didn’t struggle, but I missed Germany.

Malvika: What was your first job?

Dr. Moll: I didn’t have to have a job as a teenager because my family was financially stable. I did, however, go to the Military.

Malvika: Did you outline a career path to get where you are today?

Dr. Moll:  Initially, I wanted to be an astronaut because I like astronomy. My parents wanted me to go into Medicine. I took different routes in my career to get where I am today. One thing led to another, and I landed in Hematology, which I love immensely.

Malvika: If you had the choice to become something other than a physician, what would you be?

Dr. Moll: I would be a  Geologist. I love rocks, Geography, and would love to make things such as tables or floors out of rocks and wood, which I still do.

Malvika: Have you always been interested in thrombosis or was there a specific incident in your life that made you become interested in that specialty?

Dr. Moll: I was not always interested in thrombosis, my interest in this area developed gradually over time. During residency, I did Hematology rotation that sparked my interest in the area of thrombosis. I had some of the best  mentors who helped me develop my interest in my current profession. There were very few people at the time in the US in this speciality. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the U.S. took a particular interest in me.

Malvika: Please describe a typical day in your life.

Dr. Moll: The typical days in my life goes as follows:

○   1 ½ days per week in clinic – individual patient care

○    3 ½ months – in patient

○    2 ½ days per week in office – organize, call patients, email, planning, mentor, etc (more flexible)

○  Rest of the time enjoying with my family, I have 4 daughters

○ I love to cook. Every weekend, it is my turn to cook, and I cook a variety of ethnic cousins. I love Indian cooking, and my friend Atul Laddu,, who loves to cook and experiment different Indian dishes, shows me a variety of Indian delicacies. I have been invited by Atul and I am looking forward to spending a day in Jayashree’s (Atul’s wife) kitchen when this pandemic is over.

Radhika: What particular talents or skills are most essential to be effective in a job as a clinician?

Dr. Moll: The following talents and skills are very essential for an effective clinician:

○    Being diligent

○    Detail oriented

○    Reliable

○    Honest

○    Transparent

○    Compassionate

○    Good communicator

Radhika: How do you react under pressure when you are faced with unexplained cases of thrombosis or huge medical tasks?

Dr. Moll: I don’t work well under pressure. I don’t like chaos or multitasking. Being from Germany, I very much like a structured, and a well planned environment.

Radhika: What do you like most about being a clinician and what part is the most satisfying?

Dr. Moll: I like and enjoy the fact that I can have a positive impact on a patient’s life,  even if it involves helping the family members after a patient died. I like that I have the ability to make a difference, and help someone die with dignity.

Radhika: What part of your occupation do you find most challenging?

Dr. Moll: I hate working with unprofessional and unreliable people. I try to avoid the mishaps that happen in the clinic and university.

Radhika: Are there any aspects in your job that you find boring?

Dr. Moll: Yes. COVID-19 that makes everything virtual, since I love personal contact.  COVID-19 has caused everyone a lot of office work, losing person contact.  I don’t like the repetitiveness.

Radhika: Which one of the 2 do you enjoy more? Clinical or research part of medicine? Why?

Dr. Moll: ○    l love the clinical part of Medicine because I enjoy the clinical setting and educating patients through various platforms, since I love teaching and educating others.

○    I love making connections with patients

○    I like research that gives direct clinical results that can help patients

○   I am not so good at basic research protocols

Radhika: Since you work in thrombosis and GTF is an organization focused on thrombosis, what are your thoughts on key educational needs and teaching points about thrombosis?

Dr. Moll: I feel that the first thing that needs to be done is to educate patients who’ve had blood clots about the basic questions about thrombosis.

  1. The healthcare professionals who deal with patients with blood clots need to be properly educated so that they can provide the best care for their patients (e.g., How long patients need to be treated with blood thinners?).
  2. People who are at risk for blood clots (hospitalized patients, obese people, patients with cancer, etc) need to be educated.

Radhika: I see that you have a rather extensive and impressive list of Clinical Research projects and publications in several of the World’s top rated scientific journals. How long does research and publications typically take you?

Dr. Moll: Well, Clinical Research can take a long time (3-4 years) because of the intricacies in developing the protocol and obtaining the data from patients.

Writing a good publication, submitting and getting it accepted for publication in a good peer-reviewed journal is rather a tricky procedure, and needs a lot of training and experience.

I have been very lucky in my life that I have selected good research topics and journals where I send my data.

Getting a publication accepted for publication is rather a tricky thing, but it comes through experience. The whole process can be somewhat overbearing.

I enjoy educating and working with junior staff members.

Radhika: Could you please walk us through the various steps in the process preparing an abstract, writing, and a full publication?

Dr. Moll: Sure. Here are the various steps involved:

  1. Develop headings for the different sections
  2. Background and Abstract
  3. Method
  4. Data- how to present it
  5. Case description
  6. Conclusion
  7. Sort of put it together as you work through the research

Radhika: We see that you love to write scientific manuscripts. How did you pick up this habit? Did you have a mentor?

Dr. Moll: I picked this habit through my training.  I had a great mentor, and through efforts, hard work, and not giving up, I developed this habit.

Rishima: If unfortunately, your manuscript is rejected, how do you feel? What do you do?

Dr. Moll: I had one article that was not accepted and I felt very bad. Three people reviewed this article, and I noticed that they were very thorough when examining his article. However, one person had very arrogant comments which I didn’t like.

I made some changes to my article based on the comments and I asked the board if they could reconsider my paper. The main editor looked over the paper and decided to accept the article. However, I did not feel like submitting my paper again to the same journal due to the way some editorial comments were made.

Rishima: We heard a very interesting story of Dr. Ahlquist, PhD.  Dr. Ahlquist came out with the theory of alpha and beta receptors and sent his thesis to a journal for publication. That journal rejected the manuscript, and then Dr. Ahlquist submitted it to a different journal which accepted the article. This was the origin of alpha and beta receptors. What would have happened if Dr. Ahlquist would have given up his efforts to publish? The World would have been devoid of such very important life-saving medications! Dr. Ahlquist’s story tells us that one should never quit, if one believes in one’s efforts. Do you have some interesting experience similar to that of Dr. Ahlquist?

Dr. Moll: No, I haven’t had a similar experience since I  don’t not engage in specific research like this. However, I agree that if you are very convinced that your information or research is quite interesting and unique, and someone rejects it, then you should still keep trying because you are determined.

Rishima: Do you like the history of Medicine?

Dr. Moll: I’m not very much interested in the history of Medicine. My father, also a physician, is very interested. He owns many books about the history of Medicine and gave one to me but I’m not very keen about it.

Rishima: From your writings, we clearly see a trait to love and admire your family members (father, mother, brothers and sister). In some of your articles, you have mentioned the members of your family. We feel that this is an excellent quality to possess. How do you maintain a close relationship with them?

 Dr. Moll: It doesn’t require a lot of effort to maintain a good relationship with people that you care about.  I have an excellent relationship with my family, so it is natural that I bring them in my writings.

Rishima: How do you focus when there are many interesting activities, needs and requests, but limited time?

Dr. Moll:  It is difficult to strike a good balance. However, I manage to operate between both my social and educational life by staying organized.

Rishima: In your opinion, what is the impact of getting involved in research, and writing and presenting the research at meetings for high school students on their future life?

Dr. Moll:  Research is an integral part of your life. Research adds a discipline to your life. Research plays a very significant role in Medicine. One must find a great mentor, a spark, and a way to learn more things. I believe one should engage into things they enjoy more. This way you develop connections and develop into this line of networking. There is a huge variety of ways for highschool students to engage in these different tactics.

Rishima: What has been your impression about these activities and the students of GTF?

I’m impressed by what Dr. Laddu and GTF are doing. Dr. Laddu has brought up a great mission of working with young members and making a major impact in their career, I really appreciate it. I enjoy interacting with GTF, and appreciate Dr. Laddu a lot. I have already had very favorable interactions with some of the GTF members (Ankita and Anushka). Dr. Laddu has given me feedback about the relationship and events carried out by NATF.   attended the event at the Albany College of Pharmacy and at Loyola, and the GTF students who presented their research were amazing! They were fully prepared, their script was to the point, well planned.

Rishima: What connected you to woodturning? What makes you like it so much?

Dr. Moll: I don’t really know what connected me to woodturning. It’s something that comes from deep within.

It was the first time I created something so unique, pretty, and it appealed to people. The positive compliments that I receive when I present my pieces that I have created through woodturning makes me very happy.

Rishima: What hobbies do you have other than wood turning?

Dr. Moll:  I bicycle a lot, this habit came to me from Germany. I also like music and jazz music a lot. I used to play the saxophone.

Rishima: What advice would you give to aspiring physicians, such as ourselves?

Dr. Moll: If students would like to pursue this field, you should definitely go for it. There are so many interesting and challenging things in this field.  You have to have a great mentor, which you have in Dr. Laddu.  You have to have a clear path outlined for you. You have to have a plan outlined for you. You need to work hard and be very focused and goal oriented.

Rishima: Thank you, Dr. Moll, for your time and interest in us and this interview!

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