Lucy Tompkins, MD, PhD

I had always wanted to become a physician, but being married to one at the time, it wasn’t conceivable that I could go to medical school myself.  I entered graduate school instead. As soon as I became a graduate student at Georgetown University in 1967, I decided that I wanted to go into the infectious diseases field mostly because my mentor, Stanley Falkow PhD, was fascinated with how bacteria caused infection and I found myself more interested in the clinical aspects of bacterial infections.

When I finally had the chance to go to medical school in the first 3-year MD program at Dartmouth beginning in 1970, I knew I would become an infectious diseases physician. Following my residency at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center and then the University of Washington, I was the first MD, PhD woman to be accepted into the University of Washington ID fellowship program, and the first fellow to do my research in the laboratory of a basic scientist, Stanley Falkow, who had moved from Georgetown to the University of Washington while I was in medical school.

While at University of Washington, I developed a method to do molecular fingerprinting of bacteria causing hospital acquired infections and published an article in JID where we used the term “molecular epidemiology” for the first time.

At the time I became a fellow trainee in ID and joined IDSA, there were very few women members and no women in leadership positions. In 1994, 15 years after completing my fellowship, I was elected as a member of the IDSA board and subsequently I served as  Secretary and Treasurer of the Executive Board for another 6 years during the time that Drs. Catherine Wilfert and Carol Baker were Vice President and President of IDSA, and Dr. Ann Gershon was a board member.  These fantastic women became my role models for leadership.  Dr. Julie Gerberding and I organized the first meeting for women in IDSA with the idea to diversify membership and to get women and others involved in leadership positions.  The Committee on Women, later called the Committee on Diversity, sprung from these early activities to involve women and others in serving as leaders in many roles in the Society.

As a result of my time on the Board of Directors and Chair of the Program Committee for the first stand-alone IDSA meeting, I met many wonderful colleagues who have become my “family”.  IDSA is my true home and the organization to which I have dedicated my time, talent and resources.  IDSA represents the best of professional societies with an impressive staff I had the pleasure of working with for many years.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my career in ID has been mentoring students, fellows and faculty. I learned everything about mentoring from my late husband, Dr. Stanley Falkow, who was my PhD mentor at Georgetown, fellowship research mentor,  and later my scientific partner as well as my spouse. I cannot overemphasize the importance of young trainees and faculty to have mentors of all sorts.  In perusing the list of those who have been honored by IDSA for various awards, invariably each of them has made special mention of their mentors.  We mentors have the responsibility and obligation to be “present” and attentive and supportive of our former trainees throughout their careers.  It is a truly wonderful and enriching experience that has brought me great joy.

The other is in the joy of discovery, integrating knowledge of clinical infectious diseases, basic and applied microbiology, and leadership of quality improvement initiatives. I have been fortunate to have had several “ah ha” moments in my career where we (fellows and colleagues) discovered a new pathogen, a new syndrome, or a new mode of transmission of infection and to apply all these disparate parts of the puzzle to publish our results and move the fields ahead.

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