'Finding the why' motivates leader in endocrinology
All of the award winners of the Endocrine Society’s 2019 Laureate Awards are leaders in the field, their given subspecialties and areas of research, but only one individual is given the Outstanding Leadership in Endocrinology Award. This year’s winner is William F. Young Jr., MD, MSc, a professor of medicine and endowed Tyson Family Endocrinology Clinical Professor at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota.
A former president of the Endocrine Society and the first chair of the Endocrinology Specialty Board at the American Board of Internal Medicine, Young spent a few minutes to talk with Endocrine Today about the “perfect balance” of endocrinology, adrenal disorders and nonfiction literature.
What was the defining moment that led you to your field?
Young: My interest in endocrinology was not triggered by a single epiphany; but rather, an endocrine focus was a result of an accumulation of experiences in medical school and internal medicine residency. I found caring for medical oncology patients to be impactful and rewarding and solving clinical conundrums challenging. During my endocrinology rotation, I encountered what I considered to be a perfect balance of clinical puzzle-solving and caring for patients with treatable neoplasms — an intersection that has been the focus of my career.
What area of research in endocrinology most interests you right now , and why?
Young: My primary area of focus for the past 35 years has been adrenal disorders and, specifically, endocrine hypertension — it is a dynamic slice of endocrinology that is constantly advancing. For example, during my clinical endocrinology training, primary aldosteronism was thought to be a rare cause of hypertension, whereas we now know that it is the most common cause of secondary hypertension. More recently, it has been recognized that somatic driver mutations in genes encoding components of a potassium channel, sodium/potassium and calcium ATPase, and a calcium channel are responsible for nearly all of aldosterone-producing adenomas. For pheochromocytoma, the first susceptibility gene was identified in 1993, and now disease-causing mutations in 18 different genes have been discovered. These genetic advances have been matched by advances in diagnostics and therapeutics for patients with endocrine hypertension.
What advice would you offer a student in medical school today?
Young: I would tell that student that she/he is embarking on a wonderful lifetime adventure and that the medical landscape spans primary care in a rural setting to basic science investigation to help solve the human body’s puzzles. Keep an open mind. Find your passion and pursue it. This was my approach, and I enjoy going to work every day — something that all physicians should have as a goal.
What was the last book you read , and what did you think of it?
Young: I enjoy reading nonfiction books on landmark achievements. The last book I read was Polio: An American Story by David Oshinsky, where he tells the story of the race for a life-saving vaccine — a true scientific suspense story. Published in 2005, it won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for history. If you like nonfiction medical history, this one is a winner.
What do you think will have the greatest influence on your field in the next 10 years?
Young: Finding the “why.” One of the most common questions patients ask is, “Why did I get ________?” We have made a lot of progress in some answers to this question for patients with adrenal and pituitary disorders, but we have a long way to go. Once the answers become more fully developed, my hope is that it will lead to advances in diagnostics and therapeutics. Finding the “why” will improve patient-important outcomes.