Being 30-Something in Oncology

Sheetal M. Kircher, MD


November 13, 2015

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Hi, and welcome to Medscape Oncology. As an introduction, my name is Sheetal Kircher. I am a medical oncologist at Northwestern University in Chicago. We are starting a really exciting series, which I hope will be informative relating to issues facing women in oncology, especially young oncologists.

I am going to cover topics from the training years to mentorship, to that work/life balance and even burnout. In this first of the series, we are going to talk about the training years and what specific issues come up.

We are in training for a long time, and it is a time in which our life is changing. We are between the ages of 25 and 35, sometimes a little before that and sometimes a little after, when we are in training—from undergraduate to medical school, internship and residency, fellowship, and finally our first faculty position as an oncologist. Our lives change, and I think our decisions change significantly in that period of time.

I usually break it down this way: In undergraduate and medical school even up into residency, I was very focused on myself—not in a bad way, but in a way in which I was spending a lot of time studying. My decisions were basically made by myself, and I was willing to go where I needed to go for residency, even if that meant leaving the institution and traveling to another city.

As I entered the end of residency and fellowship, my life was changing. I got married at the end of medical school. I had my first kid as a second-year resident, and my second kid as a fellow. There were definitely more people along for the ride to influence my decisions. When I was choosing a fellowship, I wasn't just making a decision by myself; there were other peoples' opinions to consider, and my priorities needed to be reset.

Priorities and career decisions—especially location—were influenced by my family.

I don't think I became less ambitious as I went through my career; I think I actually became more ambitious, but the priorities and career decisions—especially location—were influenced by my family. My two kids, my husband, and where our lives were going as a family.

I don't know whether it has much to do with being a woman or being a 25-year-old, a 30-year-old, and a 35-year-old. It's okay that our decisions in training are very much influenced by our families. Sometimes that means making a decision at 35 isn't the same one you'd make when you were 25 and single.

It is not even just about having a family. Even if you are not married and don't have children, as we enter our 30s, our mid-30s, and definitely into our late 30s, we are more settled, and our decisions will be highly influenced by what our life outside of work is. And I think that is okay.

That is my main point on the training years. Next time, I want to reflect a little bit on work/life balance—the ever-coveted work-life balance. I hope this was helpful. Thank you.

Editor's Note: This series of commentaries is intended to prompt discussion among women and younger oncologists about challenges encountered in establishing their careers. Dr Kircher found that getting married and having children during her oncology training strongly affected her career decisions, requiring her to reset priorities. What factors during medical or oncology training helped or hampered your career development?


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