By Jane Lowe Meisel, MD
This past fall I had the honor of attending the Women in Oncology Strategic Planning Meeting at ASCO headquarters. There, a diverse group of approximately 20 female oncologists gathered together to articulate some of the biggest challenges facing women in oncology today, and to brainstorm about ways ASCO can help us address them.
Many of the challenges women in oncology face are not unique to our subspecialty—it can be hard to be a woman in medicine no matter your area of focus. Balancing work and family is a piece of this puzzle, but not the whole story. Women face bias from patients as well as colleagues; it can sometimes be challenging for us to say no to “opportunities” that give us more work to do but do not necessarily advance our careers or our personal satisfaction; in addition, we often try so hard to take care of everyone around us that we forget to take care of or advocate for ourselves.
At the strategic planning meeting, we were able to benefit from an incredible facilitator who encouraged us to think not just about the challenges we were facing, but also about the opportunities that were inherent in these challenges, and the strengths we had, individually and as a group, that we could use to face them. Together, we tried to move from articulating challenges to defining goals, from considering limitations to brainstorming clear objectives. One of the biggest themes that emerged was the amount that can be achieved simply by bringing women together to support each other across practice settings and at different stages of our careers. As women in oncology, we are fortunate to have ASCO as a home base—it is a place that values women as clinicians, scientists, and thought leaders, and a place that has already helped countless women in our field to grow and thrive.
Six months later, it is time again to look towards the ASCO Annual Meeting. It is one of my favorite times of year, professionally. I am continually inspired by the thousands of people who come from all over the world each year to present their research, engage in dialogue with colleagues, and move the field forward. I love the opportunity to meet in person with collaborators from across the world whose voices I typically hear only over the phone in conference calls. I love absorbing all I can from the posters and the oral presentations, and having the opportunity to prepare material for the sessions in which I am contributing or presenting.
But over the last few years, one of the best things about the Annual Meeting for me has been the Women’s Networking Center. For those of you that have not made it their in past years, it is on the fourth floor of Hall A, next door to the Trainee Lounge. It is a place to have a cup of coffee and temporarily break from the constant motion that sometimes characterizes the meeting. It offers a chance to catch up with old friends and colleagues and to meet new ones; to hear about topics ranging from negotiation to work-life balance to sexual harassment; and to explore opportunities, both formally and informally, for mentorship and collaboration. Other women are clearly excited about it as well: during the first 2 years of the Women’s Networking Center (it started in 2015), it welcomed 300 attendees. Last year, nearly 700 women visited the Center. I was inspired by the rich dialogue I witnessed in so many of the sessions I attended last year, and genuinely can’t wait to see this year’s program unfold.
It has been an honor to be a part of ASCO’s Women in Oncology Work Group for the past 2 years, led by the amazing Dr. Sonali Smith. This year, we have worked hard to put together what we think will be some memorable and thought-provoking sessions with many of the most illustrious female leaders in our field. Preregistration is not required to attend any of the programs there—just come when your schedule allows. We are excited about the connections we know will be made and strengthened there, and about this great opportunity to bring so many women in our incredible field together. Come join us!
Dr. Meisel is an assistant professor of hematology and oncology at the Winship Cancer Institute and the Emory University School of Medicine whose focus is on breast and gynecologic cancers. She conducts clinical trials in these areas and enjoys teaching residents, fellows, and students in the clinics and as part of their formal curriculum.