Disclosures: Lee reports no relevant financial disclosures.
November 24, 2020
3 min read

ASH president says planning, flexibility helped her lead society through challenging year

Disclosures: Lee reports no relevant financial disclosures.
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Stephanie Lee, MD, MPH, estimated that she has “three and a half jobs.”

“That’s how it seems when I add up the time devoted to my external leadership position, my own work at the institution and home,” Lee, who is the 2020 president of ASH, a member of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and a professor at University of Washington, told Healio. “I spend most of my time doing either work-related or family-related things. I am not good at taking time for myself separate from those two things. That works for me, but I know it doesn’t work for everybody.”

Stephanie Lee, MD, MPH

Lee spoke with Healio about serving as ASH president amid the COVID-19 pandemic and how she balances work, home life and her leadership role with the society.

Healio: How have you managed to serve as ASH president while maintaining your other responsibilities?

Lee: I knew 2 years in advance that I would be stepping into this role, and that allowed me to prepare. I did work I could do before the year I was going to serve, knowing that I would be quite busy in January. That allowed me to devote more time [to ASH] than I otherwise would have been able to do. I am lucky to have the flexibility to do that, both with my clinical work and my research. I also spoke with my family and got their support before I ran for this position. They knew it was going to be an unusual year. Of course, they had no idea it was going to be this unusual.

Healio: How did COVID change the way your presidency unfolded vs. the way you planned it?

Lee: It changed things quite a bit. As ASH president, you are leading an organization that is very mature and deep in talent both in terms of staff and volunteers. It’s got an amazing infrastructure — it’s active in so many areas. So, when COVID-19 came along, I was trying to do all those things plus navigate this uncharted territory. I devoted just as much time as I had planned, or even more, to ASH this year. But instead of spending time traveling, the time commitment switched to other things. We all need to be flexible and accept that we might have to reach our goals a little bit differently than we normally would.

Healio: Did the meetings being conducted remotely this year make it easier to balance them with family obligations?

Lee: That helped. I was also very lucky because my kids are older. The youngest is 15, so he is independent and does all his schoolwork by himself. Usually, there is quite a bit of travel involved in representing an organization, and that has not been the case this year. I basically move from my desk to my kitchen during the day. Sometimes I see patients in the clinic, but, overall, it’s a very small circle compared with the usual places I roam. However, that also means I haven’t gotten that relaxation time that travel sometimes gives you. Working from home, a person can work every minute if they want to. We all need to figure out the boundaries, because just being home doesn’t signify anything different now.

Healio: What advice would you give to women in the profession who are considering taking on a leadership role?

Lee: My first piece of advice would be to try it. If you like it and want to do more, it is going to claim time just like anything else. It’s really not different than taking on an additional responsibility in your work life, such as another research project or role at your institution, or more clinical work. It’s going to demand time; you’ll need to prioritize and be as effective as you can in whatever you are doing. But I would definitely encourage people to give leadership a try. It’s a different challenge but one that I’ve always found enjoyable and rewarding.

For more information:

Stephanie Lee, MD, MPH, can be reached at sjlee@fredhutch.org.