Think beyond the CV: Ann Danoff, MD, shares advice for future endocrinologists
Ann Danoff, MD, had already established herself as a professional modern dancer performing in New York City when she picked up a friend’s copy of Cells and Organelles and saw the first parallels between movement and endocrinology.
“The guiding thing that drove me to endocrine is my love of movement,” Danoff, former chief of medicine at the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Hospital and vice chair of medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, told Healio. “To me, it is a miracle to be able to maintain homeostasis while there is so much movement going on, everywhere.”
Danoff, whose decades-long career in medicine spans basic science to diabetes education, neuroendocrine disease and transgender care, will receive the outstanding educator award at this year’s ENDO annual meeting. The award recognizes exceptional achievement as an educator in the discipline of endocrinology and metabolism.
Danoff has also been active in educational activities at the Endocrine Society, including serving as chair of Trainee Day, chair of the Endocrine Board Review course, and most recently, physician-in-practice chair of the Annual Meeting Steering Committee, where she organized more than 100 sessions.
Healio spoke with Danoff about the connection between dance and endocrine feedback loops, tackling climate change and endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and the importance of promoting equity and inclusion in the specialty and beyond.
Healio: What is the defining moment that led you to your field?
Danoff: I had a friend who happened to be a molecular endocrinologist. While I was still a dancer, I picked up a copy of a book he had, Cells and Organelles, and read it. I fell in love. It was so amazing — the big feedback loops and inter- and intracellular loops and processes. I love the science behind endocrinology.
Later, when I was picking a fellowship, I was drawn to endocrine. It was so gratifying to be able to help people, who were, say, floridly hypothyroid. You can replace a natural substance that was missing and completely change someone’s life. The mix of incredibly subtle diagnoses with those you could make the moment you saw someone in the waiting room drew me to the field.
Healio: What area of endocrinology most interests you, and why?
Danoff: My interests have changed during the course of my career. I did basic science initially and was in the lab for about 10 years. Then I moved to the South Bronx and developed a diabetes education program, which was really fun. Then I moved to New York University School of Medicine, where I was division director and program director and worked with the late David L. Kleinberg, MD, professor of medicine and director of the neuroendocrine unit at NYU. Most recently, I have become more involved with transgender care.
For me, what is most interesting are overlapping areas of medicine, like oncoendocrinology, like the science behind questions about what glands get bumps on them, and why some of those bumps become malignant and other don’t. On a broader level, I am interested in the things that help us understand our place in the universe or stretch our definition of who we are. Things like circadian rhythms and endocrine disrupting cemicals, which demonstrate the effects of environment, and information about the microbiome which challenges our view of where “self” ends and “not self” begins. What are those bugs doing in our gut? How can we modify them to prevent or cure disease?
Healio: What advice would you offer a student in medical school today?
Danoff: Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning talks about the importance of living a purposeful life. I grew up in a family where it was important to try to make the world a better place. In my view, having purpose and caring more about things that money cannot buy than the things that money can buy gives you a chance to live a fulfilling life. The typical answer to a question like this, which I agree with, is to do what you love. Don’t worry so much about your CV. I am not saying ignore it, but do not do things just for your CV; do it because it is something you care deeply about.
My other advice is that students are now living in a time where, if you want to save health care and the planet, you have to think and act politically. I know people are busy and it is a lot to ask, but I encourage people to get involved. In the absence of collective political action, I am afraid that we are doomed.
For your personal sanity, I also strongly recommend that carve out electronic-device free time.
Healio: What do you think will have the greatest influence on your field in the next 10 years?
Danoff: The nonglobal answer is there are a lot of smart people in this field who will continue to keep moving the needle forward in terms of understanding all the endocrine processes behind things like feedback loops. However, in the absence of real attention to the foundational problems of our society, we are in big trouble.
The things that will influence us the most in health care involve creating an environment in which people have the ability to think and act creatively and are not beholden to checking off boxes. In health care and beyond, diversity and inclusion is critical. We must establish and ensure social justice for all, a good education system, economic fairness where work is valued and compensated appropriately, and gender and race equity. I know, those are big things. But without those things, who cares if the upper limit of a normal thyroid-stimulating hormone is 2.4 mIU/mL or 3.7 mIU/mL? That type of distinction, especially in the absence of standardized assays, is moot if we permit EDCs to change our basic biology, climate change to destroy the planet, and people to suffer unnecessarily. Those big issues are maybe not on a 10-year horizon — maybe it is a longer time horizon than that. We have a really long way to go, but those conversations are finally gathering momentum. I hope they continue to pick up speed.
Healio: What are your hobbies and interests outside of practicing medicine?
Danoff: I have always thrown myself 300% into anything I have done, so it is a little embarrassing that I have never really had “hobbies.” I did tai chi for 10 years. I swim 1 mile every day, and I meditate. The closest thing I have to a hobby is making jewelry out of polymer clay. I can get lost in the colors and textures, and enjoy giving them away as gifts. I also love the visual arts. Now that I am double-vaccinated, I have been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art twice already. It was wonderful. I don’t think it quite qualifies as a “hobby,” but I have also had the privilege of single parenting my incredible twin daughters.
For more information:
Ann Danoff, MD, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.