CTSA Profile: Amanda McMillan – Educating for Impact

August 11, 2015

In June 2015, Amanda McMillan assumed a new position as the Education Program Manager for the Duke CTSA. She’s still sorting out the priorities, but hopes to make a difference at Duke and other CTSA institutions by better equipping people working in the realm of translational medicine. Her career has spanned different roles in different disciplines, but there has always been a common thread.

“I’ve always been driven from one point to the next by a desire to make an impact in people’s lives,” she says.


What is your current job at Duke?

I’ve been at Duke for 10 years, and in June, 2015 I started a new job – Education Program Manager for the Duke CTSA. Before that, I was a senior science writer, working with Dr. Danny Benjamin on the Pediatric Trials Network. My original job at Duke was as an editor in the Duke Clinical Research Institute’s communications group.


You have master’s degrees in English and in public health leadership from UNC. Is there a connection?

As a kid, I knew I wanted to be a veterinarian or a teacher. I pursued a PhD in English, thinking I would share my love of literature in the classroom. But I soon realized constricted education budgets and a glut of English PhD grads on the market meant job prospects weren’t great, so I exited the program with a terminal master’s. Soon after, I learned about the field of scientific writing and editing when a friend invited me to an American Medical Writers Association panel discussion, which included representatives from the DCRI communications group. One thing led to another, and I found myself working as an editor of medical manuscripts at DCRI. In the course of that job, I was overwhelmed by the flood of evidence about what happens in the human body when we don’t treat it well; consequently, I decided I wanted to learn how to intervene earlier by teaching people about preventive health. Thanks to Duke’s tuition benefit, I went back to UNC for an MPH, focusing on comprehensive educational approaches to prevent obesity. Since obtaining that degree, I’ve sought opportunities at Duke that would allow me to put my training to use. The education program manager role presented just such an opportunity.


What do you do as the education program manager for the Duke CTSA?

I can’t describe an average day – it varies so much depending on what priorities we decide to pursue. But before I officially started on June 15, I led an education brainstorming session where we gathered input from about 40 people across Duke’s research enterprise. We took the ideas they shared and compared them against what the IOM observed in its 2013 assessment of the CTSA program. Not surprisingly, many of IOM’s points were echoed in our brainstorming sessions. We’ve since streamlined our priorities into a master plan-in-progress, which aims to align with priorities at the national level. Activities to be emphasized may include increasing online availability of courses in clinical and translational science and efforts to create instruction in non-traditional areas such as team science, tech transfer and commercialization, and regulatory science.


When did you first learn of the term “translational medicine”?

I think I first ran into it when I was at the DCRI, helping to edit the original NIH grant proposal for a Duke CTSA award nearly 10 years ago. It has been intriguing to have been in on the ground floor, and then to see the ideas coming to fruition.


When you aren’t at Duke, how do you spend your time?

My husband and I like to stay physically active. The Durham YMCA is my home away from home. I have a lot of friends through that gym—we’ve done triathlons, biking events, road races, and even started a book club. I also spend a few hours a week with a “little sister” through the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. Kayla and I have been together three years. She’s an artist in the making and loves showing me the anime-inspired drawings she creates by the hundreds.


What book are you reading now?

I’ve just finished “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande—a thoughtful critique about how we approach end-of-life decision-making in this country. I read it with my book club, and it spawned many interesting discussions both within the group and among our families and friends.


What is something most people don’t know about you?

I’ve broken my arms three times, twice from falling off a bicycle. Surprisingly, I still ride bicycles, out of either stubbornness or stupidity, I’m not sure which.

A thank-you card to Amanda McMillan
from students in the NCC Summer
Research Program.

What is a memorable moment for you at Duke?

Danny Benjamin enlisted me to help manage his North Carolina Collaborative Summer Research Experience—an NIH-sponsored program to encourage young people to pursue clinical research careers. For the last three summers, I have taught high school and college students about scientific writing, but have also been involved in the daily oversight of the program. This experience allows me to have a direct impact on the next generation of clinicians and researchers, which is very satisfying. These summer programs truly mark the high point of every year for me.