Milestone birthdays are typically a time to pause and reflect and my 30th birthday was no exception. Despite building a successful consulting career at Ernst & Young, I knew in my heart that I needed to do more. I have been fascinated by the human body and medicine my entire life, and while volunteering was rewarding, I wanted to help people in a bigger way. After much soul-searching and with the support of my loving husband, I decided to become a doctor. As hard as it may seem to change careers, it was actually the easiest decision I have ever made.
So I resigned from a successful consulting career, turned in my platinum frequent-flyer card and went back to school. My deadlines, corporate clients, and spreadsheets were replaced with organic chemistry, biology, and physics. After years in information technology, I humbly sat in my pre-med program and tried to remember how to work the advanced functions on a calculator- taking cues from classmates ten years younger who arrived effortlessly at the answer.
The change from information technology to medicine may appear to be one of extremes. However, human physiology is, in many ways, the most challenging and complex of systems. When considering the medical technology available: robotic surgery, artificial hearts, gamma knife and the advancement of medical imaging, few technologies can complete with the quality and longevity of our innate God-given human systems. After years of working with large data systems, I find myself challenged by the intricacies of the human body and the enormity of the molecular systems that compose it.
In my previous career, application of data processing principles would typically lead to a solution that would meet my client’s satisfaction. Now I memorize treatment algorithms and randomize controlled trials, only to watch in fascination as the same intervention heals one patient magically and fails another miserably. In many ways, medicine presents the ultimate information system, one which will continue to challenge me throughout my career.
As I pursued my medical education, it was the cancer patients who lingered in my thoughts. These patients present bewildered, determined, and often desperate. The complexity of their disease requires a physician who is not only a clinician, but a partner and collaborator. Oncologists not only treat the disease, but deal with the myriad of life and death issues that accompany it. It is the intensity of this experience and the ability to have an impact in someone’s life that attracts me to oncology.
Now at the end of a long work week, I no longer question the purpose of my work. My medical and technology training allow me to make a contribution to the field of Radiation Oncology and provide improved care to my cancer patients.