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Janet Bassett Reaches 25 Years of Service at U of U

Janet Bassett Reaches 25 Years of Service at U of U

by Kyle Wheeler

As the calendar turned to April of 2020, Janet Bassett, the Program Manager for the University of Utah MD-PhD program crossed a notable milestone: she has reached twenty-five years of service with the University of Utah.

Twenty-five years ago, Janet began her time with the University of Utah by working with just the fifth person to matriculate through the University of Utah's MD-PhD program. Since then she has worked with many MD-PhD students with over forty-five graduating since 2000 and a current cohort of thirty-eight students at various stages of the program.

When Janet began her career with the University of Utah, the notion of a person with dual MD-PhD training was novel. But Janet notes that the novelty of that training wasn't immediately appealing to everyone in the health sciences community.

"When I first started, MD-PhDs were, relatively, a new training route," Janet noted. It took some time for the community to see the benefit of having collaborators with both MD and PhD training. "The PhDs didn't think the MD-PhDs had real PhDs, and the MDs didn't think they had real MDs," Janet continued. "So, there was this little bit of conflict between the two."

However, people who are proverbial bridges between two segments of a broad community are likely to show their value. Janet points out that MD-PhD students and graduates have been no exception. "It's been fun to see as time goes on how they become more collaborative and work together."

Just as the health sciences community has come to rely on the unique training of MD-PhDs, Janet has been a steady presence that the MD-PhD program at the University of Utah relies on. It is rare for every student and alumnus of a program to be known, supported and kept in touch with by a single administrator. But that is the exact kind of presence that Janet has been. She is a supreme advocate for each student and alumnus.

While Janet has always been a consistent presence in the MD-PhD program, it wasn't obvious that she was going to get the job. She applied for the position and was to be interviewed by Jerry Kaplan, the then director of the program.

"I was very late for the interview. I could not find Jerry Kaplan's office in the School of Medicine," Janet said. She was yet another victim of the labyrinthian layout and non-sensical room number convention of the University of Utah School of Medicine building.

Janet paused and came up with a game plan to salvage the situation as best she could. She noticed a man walking down the hallway and thought, "I'm going to ask this guy if he knows where [Jerry Kaplan's] office is. I'm going to go in the bathroom—I'm late anyway—just try and refresh, catch my breath, wipe my sweaty brow."

Janet took action, "I asked this guy, 'Could you tell me how to find Jerry Kaplan's office?' And he's like, 'I'm Jerry Kaplan.' That was the wrong answer. I'm twenty minutes late, sweating like there's no tomorrow, just totally embarrassed.

"I had the interview and never, ever, ever thought I would get the job. And then, he called. Jerry Kaplan believed in me and trusted my abilities." The rest, as they say, is history. Janet took the job and Jerry Kaplan's trust in Janet and her abilities proved to be well-founded, as she has been a pillar of support for every MD-PhD student at the University of Utah.

Despite the tremendous character and commitment Janet has shown in her twenty-five years, Janet is modest about reaching this milestone. She is amused at her own inauspicious beginning and defers her thoughts to the students, for whom she is effusive in praise.

"I learn so much from these smart people. And that keeps me around. They're just wonderful kids," Janet said. While she has stayed for the students, it's clear the MD-PhD students would not have had top-tier support if the University of Utah had not been able to keep around the wonderful person who is Janet Bassett.