Dr. Tiffany Hébert: Following Her Father’s Footsteps to a New Path
Dr. Tiffany Hébert's exposure to medical education started earlier than usual: Her father Dr. John Hébert III recalled, “When I graduated from medical school, I was holding Tiffany in my arms.”
As she grew up, Tiffany watched and listened as her father progressed from Meharry Medical College to ultimately serve as chair, program director, and associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology at the Michigan State University (MSU) College of Human Medicine. The elder Dr. Hébert recently retired at the end of the 2021 academic year after a fulfilling 48-year career serving patients and educating future physicians.
“No one has had more of an impact on my career in medicine than my dad,” said Tiffany, who went on to earn her own M.D. and is now associate professor of pathology at Einstein and director of the pathology residency program at Montefiore.
A Firm Foundation
Tiffany recalls accompanying her father to the local adolescent health center as a teenager. “I saw how he took care of young women my own age and how committed he was to women's health issues,” she said.
She had other models, too. “In the medical community in Flint, Michigan, where I grew up, Black physicians thrived and were leaders in the community,” she said. “Dr. Samuel Dismond was chief of medicine at Hurley Medical Center in Flint. My pediatrician, Dr. Vivian Lewis, inadvertently introduced me to laboratory medicine when she tested my blood on a little machine in her office.”
When Tiffany entered MSU medical school—where her father was teaching—she expected to follow him into obstetrics and gynecology (Ob/Gyn). “But one of my first courses was histology, and it was a new world,” she said. “For some people, looking at slides is like looking at a mosaic, and they’re like, ‘I don’t really see it.’ But I could see it.” Her dad got her a microscope so she could view slides after class.
While pathology was her passion, Ob/Gyn was not shelved. Tiffany completed an anatomic and clinical pathology residency and a cytopathology fellowship at Montefiore, and then a fellowship in gynecologic pathology.
Today, on the gynecologic pathology team at Montefiore, Tiffany reviews challenging cases and participates in the weekly gynecologic pathology tumor board. She served as co-director of the medical school reproductive systems course from 2011 to 2018, and lectures on the pathology of the vulva and vagina, including HPV-related disease.
A Shared Passion for Education
John Hébert’s love of medicine is evident in his commitment to both patients and students. During his career, he delivered some 7,000 babies, and he taught and mentored about 1,000 medical students.
Like her father, Tiffany has helped young doctors advance. “Tiffany was the year ahead of me in residency when I started at Montefiore in 2003, and the following year she was my chief resident,” said Dr. Christina Day, now a pathologist at White Plains Hospital in New York. “She is no-nonsense. She expected us to work hard and to be diligent, and in return she was a strong advocate for us.” It was Tiffany who inspired Christina to become chief resident the next year.
From 2012 to 2013, Tiffany trained Dr. Gad Murenzi, a Rwandan general practitioner, in pathology at Montefiore through a training grant from the National Institutes of Health. He also completed the rigorous program she developed in gynecologic pathology, with emphasis on cervical HPV/HIV-related disease.
“Dr. Hebert understood that you make mistakes,” said Gad. “She took me through the process from the beginning—the research, the microscope, almost everything.”
Gad went on to serve as investigator of the Rwanda/Einstein Research Consortium’s cervical cancer screening project and now directs the Einstein-Rwanda Research and Capacity Building Program in Rwanda. The two remain in touch.
Tiffany’s kindness extends beyond the clinical setting. Gad recalled, “In my country the time doesn’t change, so negotiating Daylight Savings Time was new to me and I was an hour late for something. She simply explained it to me.” And when he faced funding difficulties for his pathology residency, Tiffany mobilized financial support that he could access for his training.
The Path to Pathology
In 2016, Montefiore and Einstein’s department of pathology education leadership—Dr. Michael Prystowsky, professor and chair of pathology, and former program director Dr. Jacob Steinberg—recognized that a restructuring was needed. “In the past, most pathologists in training would complete four years in residency and one or two fellowships but, unlike other medical disciplines, they weren’t exposed to the day-to-day responsibilities of a pathologist,” explained Tiffany, who was then also associate program director for anatomic pathology education at Montefiore. “It affected people’s lives—their ability to feel comfortable starting a family or pay down debt related to medical school.”
Tiffany and her colleagues reshaped the program to deliver hands-on experience. It jumpstarts with onboarding (a computer-based study program on principles of pathology) and boot camp (a month-long orientation). By the third year, students can integrate their knowledge of anatomic and clinical pathology with other clinical information and begin to make diagnoses. By the fourth year, they can function at the level of a fellow or junior attending. The program emphasizes communication with all levels of staff.
“It’s important to be able to talk about complex topics with people who may have less exposure to what we do,” she explained.
The first class to spend all four years with the new curriculum graduated residency in spring 2020. Tiffany looks forward to their progress, but it’s hard to say how pure the data will be: “They were a bit disrupted by COVID-19,” she said. “This year we’ve been able to preserve the integrity of the schedule, so I’m hoping to see more continuity.”
“Training the Next Generation of Pathologists: A Novel Residency Program Curriculum at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine” appeared in Academic Pathology in 2019, and Tiffany will follow up with an evaluation of the new curriculum when data become available. “We hope the new curriculum will better prepare pathologists for what the future asks of them,” she said.
Model, Mentor, and More
As for Tiffany, her dad will always be a part of her focus and her future. “He has always been my inspiration as I’ve forged my own path,” she said. For her, he is the epitome of the perfect model, mentor—and father.
Posted on: Thursday, September 30, 2021