“Mina sees beyond what I see. She gives me the ‘aha moment,’ and I always ask myself how did I not see that. I keep aiming to do more and be the best in what I do because of her,” Mitch Matoga, MD, PhD, a senior researcher with UNC Project-Malawi, says of his fellowship mentor, Mina Hosseinipour, MD, MPH, professor of medicine and scientific director for UNC Project-Malawi.
Hosseinipour’s powerful mentoring of a remarkable number of doctoral and post-doctoral students in Malawi was honored recently when UNC awarded her with a 2021 Distinguished Teaching Award for Post-Baccalaureate Instruction. Since 2005, Hosseinipour has hosted and mentored more than 100 young researchers, providing them with the clinical and global research experience necessary to advance their academic careers in global health. Hosseinipour embodies the UNC global health partnership model, teaching and training local Malawian staff and students to become public health and clinical leaders in their own country. She has mentored 22 Fogarty International clinical research scholars, including five Malawi nationals (Matoga is one), who spend one year conducting independent research projects in Malawi.
Her colleague Innocent Mofolo, country director of UNC-Project Malawi, notes the larger impact of her work. She empowers local doctors to make lasting change within the country’s health care system, both as expert physicians and as policymakers, he says.
“Mina has been the pillar of our operations, providing support and mentorship for physicians in Malawi,” Mofolo says. “A lot of the young doctors and clinicians she has mentored have ended up becoming leaders in their field of expertise or taken up leadership positions in government.”
“I had the great joy of recruiting Mina to UNC as a fellow and watch her career and contributions blossom: as a physician, and researcher and teacher. She is remarkably gifted in these three spheres,” says Myron Cohen, MD, director of UNC’s Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases. “Her absolute commitment to students at all levels has been tireless, unwavering, and invaluable. She is so deserving of this recognition by UNC.”
“This mentor award is long overdue,” says Irving Hoffmann, PA, MPH, international operations director for Project-Malawi. “I have worked with Dr. Hosseinipour in Malawi for the past 20 years. Mina has always been committed to her many students. She has especially dedicated herself to the Malawian scholars’ interests — best illustrated in 2018 when UNC Project-Malawi had 25 peer-reviewed publications with Malawian scholars as first authors. Mina’s career is a prime example of what academic global health can really accomplish.”
Hosseinipour’s research focuses on the management of HIV in developing countries. She has trained most of the Project-Malawi clinical staff on antiretroviral principles, HIV epidemiology, and the natural history of HIV disease. She serves as co-principal investigator on the NIH-sponsored Clinical Trials Network for the UNC Global Clinical Trials Unit, protocol chair for two AIDS Clinical Trials Group protocols, and the protocol chair for a phase 1 HIV vaccine trial. With this deep experience, Hosseinipour provides a wide array of training to medical students, public health students, infectious disease fellows, and new faculty who are interested in global health.
“As an educator and mentor, putting trainees in the limelight is my priority,” Hosseinipour says. “I am thrilled and humbled to receive this honor that recognizes my behind-the-scenes contribution to students’ success.”
“Mina is willing to give students real responsibility and the room to be self-motivated and really experience what research in resource-poor settings entails,” says Cindy Gay, MD, MPH, a former infectious diseases fellow and now an associate professor of medicine at UNC. “I appreciate now how she did that for me and even allowed me to represent the UNC Project with other groups at a very early point in my training, which was no small thing. Ownership, responsibility and investment in the work you are doing are not easy things to teach. But Mina provides the experiences whereby students who are willing can learn what these things mean in real, practical terms.”
“Mina is extremely intelligent, and you did not want to come to a meeting with her without having thought through what you were trying to accomplish,” says Austin Wesevich, MD, MPH, who worked with Hosseinipour as a Doris Duke International Clinical Research fellow and now is a medical pediatric resident at Duke University. ”She is well-versed in so many research projects over her many years, so I needed to improve my understanding of study design and what I was trying to achieve by asking different research questions.”
Robert Flick, MD, of Johns Hopkins University says Hosseinipour’s attention to her mentees and the details of their work far surpasses any mentorship he’s experienced elsewhere.
“I have yet to witness a mentor who rivals Mina in their total commitment to their mentees,” Flick says. “Despite a large (and ever-growing) group of trainees, Mina consistently carves out time and mental space for each of them. Her attention to detail with her trainees’ projects is at times simply unbelievable; she would frequently recall intricate details of prior drafts of what I was working on that I had forgotten about.”
Students and mentees note that Hosseinipour welcomed them to join her Ultimate Frisbee games twice a week in Lilongwe. As with her academic and clinical instruction, she offers detailed lessons and encouragement in the game, which also gives mentees some physical activity, socializing, and a chance to blow off steam. “She implemented skills sessions to help newcomers learn the basics and established players refine their technique,” says Bryna Harrington, MD/PHD UNC senior medical student (MS4), who saw clearly the parallels between the academic and sport instruction. “Dr. Hosseinipour expects excellence, whether in research or in Ultimate Frisbee, yet she also values the learning process such that she is responsive to trainees at any level and identifies how each can be a contributing team member.”
“I did not fall in love with research until my year in Malawi under Mina’s mentorship,” says Wesevich. “I am planning to go into hematology/oncology with the goal of pursuing global oncology as a physician scientist. This career aspiration was hugely influenced by Mina’s example and mentorship.”
Sarah Rutstein, MD, PhD, says Hosseinipour has shaped who she is as a physician, scientist, and global health services researcher at UNC. “She is principled, thoughtful, responsive, and as staunch an advocate for junior investigators as I have ever encountered.”