George R. Buchanan, MD: Why I Chose Hematology
|Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology
Children's Cancer Fund Distinguished Chair in Pediatric Oncology and Hematology
Director, Barrett Family Center for Pediatric Oncology
University of Texas Southwestern, Dallas, TX
Q: When was the moment you chose hematology?
A: When I began my training to become a pediatrician, I was not at all certain about hematology as a subspecialty. My firm decision to become a hematologist occurred during the second year of my residency while caring for children with acute leukemia and sickle cell anemia, two of the most common and serious hematologic disorders affecting infants, children, and adolescents. I was fortunate to have an outstanding teacher who had been in the field for over three decades and shared with me her continued excitement about practicing in this field and the challenges faced during attempts to improve the diagnosis and therapy of blood disorders. I recall discussing with her the fascinating interplay between the science of hematology (about which we knew much less than currently) and the application of the science to identify and then implement new drug therapies to treat or even prevent complications of these two once uniformly fatal conditions. The rest was history. Half way through my residency I was "hooked" on hematology and have never regretted it for a moment. Having played a very small role in improving the lives of children with sickle cell anemia and leukemia - as well as many other conditions - has been a source of great satisfaction and joy.
Q: Why do you think it is important for people to get involved in this field?
A: Pediatric hematology is an exciting career that combines the newest and latest scientific advances with "hands on" ability to help children and their families deal with serious, complex, or rare disorders, fortunately now with overall good outcomes. Very few pediatric hematology-oncology specialists regret their decision.
Q: In your experience, what is the most difficult or challenging aspect of becoming a hematologist in the United States?
A: A difficult and challenging feature of being a hematologist, in contrast to a hematologist-oncologist (whose practice is mainly oncology), is the complexity of the field, as well as, more importantly, difficulties in generating enough income or revenue from practice in order to make a living. This is why many specialists choose or need to practice oncology as well, where reimbursement is better. However, pediatric hematologists can have a wonderful career, with a highly satisfactory income, by practicing in academic medical centers and spending an appreciable amount of their time doing teaching, research, and education in addition to clinical care.
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: The technological advances in the field have been amazing, and keeping up to date with them and employing them in ongoing patient care activities is necessary and challenging.
Q: What do you find to be most rewarding about a career in pediatric hematology?
A: The excitement and challenge of discovery, combining science with patient care, and impacting the lives of children and their families.
Q: Finally, what advice might you have for a younger person who will be pursuing a career in this field?
A: My advice is: you made an excellent choice, stick with it, the journey will sometimes be difficult, but the self satisfaction and rewards (well, maybe not financial) will be great. Although hematologists don't generally get rich, I know of no poor hematologists, so concerns about supporting themselves and their families should not be a deterrent to a pediatric hematology career.