This post is from one of the Inspiring Hospice and Palliative Medicine Leaders Under 40. Thomas LeBlanc, MD MA was selected based on his involvement in AAHPM, educating others about hospice and palliative medicine, participation in charitable work, and mentoring of students or residents. Each honoree was then asked who inspired him over the course of his career. We are sharing some of his answers in this post. Check back regularly for posts from other leaders.

Who has most influenced your work in hospice and palliative medicine and what impact has he or she had?
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with a remarkable team of palliative care researchers and clinicians here at Duke over the last decade. There are too many amazing people to mention, but among the most influential are Amy Abernethy, James Tulsky, Karen Steinhauser, and Tony Galanos. Amy is busier and more productive than anyone I know, yet she’s always incredibly generous with her time, resources, and mentorship; we’ve been working together since I was a medical student in 2005, and so many of the opportunities and success I’ve had are because of her. I worked in James’ clinic when I was a 3rd year medical student, and that’s when I first came to understand the incredible power of good communication. Seeing his masterful communication skills in action motivated me to cultivate some of those skills too, and it has made me a better doctor in the end. Plus, without his guidance in all things about life, who knows where I’d be! And without Karen’s help, I doubt I would have gotten my first grant. She met with me at a coffee shop during a day off, and very gently helped me realize how many mistakes I had made in my writing. With that useful feedback, the grant was markedly improved and it got funded, and this success has really helped launch my research in palliative care for patients with blood cancers! Last but certainly not least, I’ve been fortunate to work with Tony Galanos several times in recent years, especially during my HPM fellowship. His passion for helping patients and families is truly remarkable, and his prowess doing so is inspirational. He has shown me first-hand what it means to truly palliate.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
In 5 years I hope I’m still doing what I do now: caring for patients with blood cancers, and doing research that seeks to improve their quality of life, even in cases where we cannot cure. When I look back in 5 years, I hope to be able to say that I’ve made a difference in the lives of the patients and families I’ve cared for, and that the research I’ve done has helped move us towards a place where we can better serve their needs. I also hope I can say that we’re more sophisticated in how we deliver palliative care to patients with blood cancers such that we’re doing it better, and much more often, even alongside active cancer treatment.

What is the best advice you have ever received?
One of my favorite teachers used to post inspirational quotes on the walls of the classroom. The one that always stuck with me was this: “You are what you take time to become.” It seemed true back then, and it continues to ring true in my lived experiences since. Sometimes we’re fortunate in life to be in the right place at the right time, but mostly we end up where we are because of each step we’ve taken along the way. I strive to make each step count, and to ensure it’s a firm-footed one that heads in the right direction.