Reflections on My 20+ Years in MEND as a Colleague of Ronald J. Koenig, MD, PhD
What can I say about Ron – well – A LOT. You see, Ron has been my mentor, my colleague, my lab mate, my office mate, my clinic partner, my friend for over 20 years.
When I interviewed at UofM in 1998-1999 – Ron had been here a decade already. It was Ron who stewarded my recruitment. And so when I made the leap and arrived at Michigan and joined the Division, I strategically had my office next to Ron precisely to benefit from his ability to gently guide others in the right direction. And so he served as my advisor – holding my hand as I tried – with what seemed like futility – to be a grown up.
As a junior faculty – I could be found routinely – well, daily – in his office, getting advice on how to do something. For that matter, I routinely consulted Ron regarding “how to” do just about anything and everything here as faculty – to start a lab, to write a paper, to get a grant, to rebut a reviewer’s comments, to give a seminar, to get someone – anyone – to join my struggling nascent lab. You name it – I asked Ron. Ron literally read every one of my grants and manuscripts for years and helped me negotiate almost every major decision in my career – and still does.
Ron has served our University for decades as the Director of our flagship MSTP dual degree MD, PhD program. Having trained a number of MSTP “fellows” during my tenure here, I can comment with certainly that in addition to running one of the best programs in the country, Ron is beloved for his leadership, mentorship and overall care he places on trainees under his umbrella – be they graduate students, medical students, post-doctoral trainees, residents, clinical fellows or faculty. Ron is the very definition of the very word “mentor”. Hence him being awarded the MICHR Mentor of the year in 2013 and Lifetime Achievement award for Education in 2019.
I have since served on numerous committees with Ron – graduate student qualifying exams and thesis meetings, mentoring committees of junior faculty, clinical and basic program committees in the hospital and medical school.
And most importantly – I learned from Ron that leadership and mentorship are not titles – they are verbs. While Ron is hands down one of the smartest colleagues I know and epitomizes the pursuit of excellence – he has always been the definition of the servant leader in MEND, MSTP, Endocrine Oncology and so many other areas of academic life.
I have seen it time and time again on committees of all kinds. To this point, he helped – selflessly – to launch the re-emergence of the endocrine oncology program – when he actually started the multidisciplinary care of endocrine cancer patients with Jim Sisson and Norm Thompson the year before. Typical.
He is always level-headed and has always been on-point in almost every negotiation where I have sought his counsel – which is almost – all of them. Ron constantly has the good will of others in mind during such meetings. An outstanding educator at the blackboard, laboratory or on the wards – Ron can always mentor at the appropriate academic level of the mentee with patience, compassion and understanding.
Ron is the real deal. He has simply been a bedrock of the multi-layered landscape at our Institution. He is forever unconditional with his countless hours of service to me and so many of our colleagues here on campus – and across the country for that matter – colleagues who routinely ask Ron’s advice on matters of grantsmanship, tenure, lab management – you name it. He is the go-to guy for advice on HOW TO engage as a medical professional.
To round things out – he is also the fittest colleague I know. Who else bikes to work 365 days/year in all weather including snow, sleet, hail or rain. Ron does. Who else takes his entire family to the artic to cross country ski a large portion of the continent during vacation. Ron does.
From my vantage point – the most notable characteristic of Ron Koenig is his generosity and humility. Thank you Ron – for your mentorship, altruism, stewardship and friendship – you are indeed the very heart and the soul of MEND, the MSTP Program and the Endocrine Oncology Program and always will be.
And since I have you on speed dial on my cell phone – I hope you know that I will probably still continue to call you when I am granted that one call when I find myself – euphemistically – up against it or behind bars so to speak – for years to come. Thank you, Ron.
Gary D. Hammer, MD, PhD
Millie Schembechler Professor of Adrenal Cancer
Professor – Departments of Internal Medicine (MEND), MIP & CDB
Director – Endocrine Oncology
University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center