Featured personality: Regis O’Keefe

Regis O’Keefe, MD, PhD

Chair, Department of Orthopaedics

Associate Dean for Clinical AffairsRegisOKeefe

Dr. Regis O’Keefe is the Chair of the Department of Orthopaedics and the Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs at the University of Rochester Medical Center. An orthopaedic oncologist, he earned his medical degree at Harvard Medical School and completed a residency in orthopaedic surgery at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Following his residency, he completed a fellowship in orthopaedic oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital. In order to better understand the diseases he treats, Dr. O’Keefe earned a PhD in biochemistry at URMC while conducting research.

As part of the CTSI Mentoring Program, Dr. O’Keefe has served as a mentor to students in the TL1 Pre-doctoral Training Program and the KL2 Career Development Program. He has had the opportunity to work with four individuals: Matthew Brown (TL1, 2011-2012), Roman Eliseev (KL2, 2010-2012), Evan Katzel (TL1, 2007-2008), and Sirish Kondabalu (TL1, 2010-2011). Dr. O’Keefe says being a mentor is one of the great privileges he has as a scientist.

“Probably the biggest impact you have is the way you can shape programs or work with people that are going to multiply what you do and take what you have thought about or done to much further levels,” he said. “I think that being a mentor has been one of the really exciting things about science and being a scientist.”

 As a philosophy and religious studies major at Yale University, Dr. O’Keefe took only the minimum science requirements to enter medical school. He says the world of science opened up to him when he enrolled at Harvard Medical School and saw the personal benefits of taking care of patients with diseases.

“It was very important for me at that time to do something to contribute to the field of medicine,” he said.

Dr. O’Keefe then began doing research with his first mentor, Dr. John Powell, a cardiovascular physiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. He says this experience in the lab was unique because he was assigned his own project; he knew the work he was doing was significant because it added new information to the field.

“The basic, fundamental thing about the excitement of it and having something that you’re trying to create that’s new and different – that’s what’s been so attractive to me.”

According to Dr. O’Keefe, one of the challenges in becoming successful as a scientist today is that trainees often do not have the opportunity to do hands-on experiments. Now, as he serves as a mentor to young students, he draws on his first, key experience in the lab. Nearly all the work he does is in collaboration with trainees, and he strives to ensure that his students feel an ownership of their projects and the discovery involved with the work. He says this is essential in creating a successful team.

“I’ve found that a mentoring relationship really is a partnership and that you really want to enable the people around you to work as effectively as possible,” he said. “That creates the best science.”

 Dr. O’Keefe says the CTSI Mentoring Program has helped him become a better mentor, yet he has received more from his protégés than he’s given.

“They are not initiated into the science, they don’t have all the background that I have, so they come at this in a very fresh way,” he said. “It’s exciting to work with people that have the energy and new vision about the approaches.”

In addition to its benefits at the individual level, Dr. O’Keefe says the CTSI’s Mentoring Program has also created a style of work that influences all URMC research centers and departments, including the Center for Musculoskeletal Research.

“It creates a culture of mentoring,” he said. “Mentors and protégés in a good relationship align their goals and they really enable one another. That culture of collaboration, I think through something like the CTSI, can reach across the institution.”

Click here for a video of Dr. O’Keefe explaining the privileges of being part of a mentoring relationship.

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