A: As a medical student, I helped care for leukemia and lymphoma patients during my clinical rotations at The M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. These patients left a lasting impression as I was struck not only by the acuity of their illness at diagnosis but also by their recovery after chemotherapy. After completing all of my clinical rotations that year, I realized that it was the field and the patient population that I was particularly drawn towards. Hematology is a dynamic field with exciting breakthroughs in diagnosis and treatment occurring on a regular basis. Clinical research interested me because I wanted a career that finds better ways to diagnose and treat blood diseases and, at the same time, be able to maintain direct patient contact.
Q: Why do you think it is important for people to get involved in this field?
A: The study of blood and blood diseases is absolutely fascinating as blood is an organ that literally touches, affects and connects every organ in the body. Hematology is a specialty that requires a large amount of intellectual investigative work. There are vast numbers of malignant (cancers) and non-malignant diseases related to hematology that I always feel intellectually challenged in a positive way.
Q: In your experience, what is the most difficult or challenging aspect of becoming a hematologist in the United States?
A: In today’s medical reimbursement environment, it is difficult to practice solely hematology. Thus, many private practice hematologists must also incorporate primary care into their practice. Unfortunately, it seems possible to only practice pure hematology if one works at a large academic center.
Q: How do you feel advances in technology (recent or past) have helped you along the way, be it in your studies or in general practice?
A: Hematology has seen revolutionary changes in the way we treat hematologic malignancies in the last 10 years. The advent of drugs such as imatinib for chronic myelogenous leukemia and lenalidomide for multiple myeloma has revolutionized the way we treat these blood cancers. Both drugs are pills that help patients avoid other toxic treatments, which were the only available options until recently. Advances such as these stimulate and remind me why I chose the dynamic field of hematology.
Q: What do you find to be most rewarding about a career in hematology research?
A: I am on the forefront of the medical field, and I hope that I am making a difference. I primarily work in the field of blood and bone marrow transplantation. This is a treatment that offers cure to patients with cancers, such as leukemia, that weren’t curable 20-30 years ago.
Q: Finally, what advice might you have for a younger person who will be pursuing a career in this field?
A: Try to decide as early as possible if you choose to pursue a hematology career in private practice, academia, or industry. Knowing early will help you best tailor your training to be highly competitive and well trained when seeking your first job. However, at the same time, be open to all possibilities and don’t overly restrict yourself so that you will always have options should your career path unexpectedly change. Fortunately, hematology is such a diverse, all-encompassing specialty that hematologists will always have options, whether in a big city or small town.