Women in Oncology at ASCO: A New Blog to Call Home

Women in Oncology at ASCO: A New Blog to Call Home

Women in Oncology

Feb 07, 2017

By Sonali M. Smith, MD
Chair, Women in Oncology Working Group

The November 2016 issue of ASCO Connection featured a beautiful article on the struggles, challenges, and successes of women in oncology. The article reminded us that, despite growing numbers of women in medicine and oncology, leadership roles and academic advancement remain elusive and more challenging for women, and highlighted the perspectives of several female ASCO members. I am honored and humbled to represent my peers and gender in that article as the chair of the Professional Development Committee’s Women in Oncology Working Group, and amazed by the warm feedback from ASCO members and non-members alike on the impact of the article. This is of course not the first article to raise the issue of gender, but it is a unique piece that reflects ASCO’s ongoing commitment to understanding and discussing the issues female oncologists face on a daily basis.

What else is ASCO doing to further the discussion on gender-based issues? For many years, ASCO has intermittently included sessions within the Annual Meeting’s Education Program focusing on women’s issues. However, in 2014, ASCO created the Women in Oncology Working Group, a subcommittee within the Professional Development Committee, to discuss and understand women’s issues.

At the Annual Meeting in 2015, ASCO opened the doors to the first Women’s Networking Center, a place for all female ASCO members to meet and discuss issues central to women in oncology. Our first year, we created small-group discussions and larger panel discussions to talk about some of the unique challenges facing women. The sessions included topics such as “Building Relationships: Identifying the Women in Your Village,” “Women and Negotiation: Narrowing the Gender Gap,” “Conflict Resolution,” “Women in Industry,” and “Women Leading, Delegating, and Setting Boundaries,” among others. Several of ASCO’s female past and incoming presidents, including Dr. Sandra Swain, Dr. Margaret Tempero, and Dr. Julie Vose, participated. One of ASCO’s strongest voices, Dr. Jamie von Roenn (Vice President of Education, Science, and Professional Development) not only participated in a number of panels but was also present and available for thoughtful discussion throughout the weekend within the Networking Center. Over 300 women attended the first year, and we are now planning the third WNC agenda for the 2017 Annual Meeting. In addition to the Women in Oncology Working Group, ASCO’s charitable component, the Conquer Cancer Foundation, also has an outstanding cocktail event for Women Who Conquer Cancer.

Energizing the issue further is a decision by the ASCO Board of Directors to formulate a strategic plan on women in oncology, to be fleshed out over the coming year. I am proud to belong to an organization that seeks to develop, and not dismiss, this important dialog. While only six ASCO presidents have been women (Rose Ruth Ellison, MD, FASCO [1974-1975]; Karen H. Antman, MD, FASCO [1994-1995]; Margaret A. Tempero, MD, FASCO [2003-2004]; Sandra J. Horning, MD, FASCO [2005-2006]; Nancy E. Davidson MD, FASCO [2007-2008]; Sandra M. Swain, MD, FACP, FASCO [2012-2013], and Julie M. Vose, MD, MBA, FASCO [2015-2016]), it is noteworthy that most of these leaders were elected in recent times, and that our incoming president-elect is Monica M. Bertagnolli, MD. The election of these inspirational women reflects the diversity of ASCO membership, and underscores the talent and value of women in oncology.

Going forward, the mission of the Women in Oncology Working Group is to further understand issues related to wage inequalities, competence assessment, female leadership styles, work-life balance, and harassment, and to recognize conscious and subconscious systematic biases that women face, among other topics. Each month, one of our members will contribute a post to this blog on a specific topic, and we hope you enjoy the discussion. ASCO’s commitment to women is not new, but we hope that the Women in Oncology Blog on ASCOconnection.org brings renewed energy and passion to this topic. Importantly, this is open to all ASCO members, and we invite comments and civil discourse. If you are interested in contributing a guest post to this blog, you can contact ASCO staff at training@asco.org.

To be honest, most workdays I don’t think of myself as a woman per se. At work, I am an oncologist first, striving to deliver quality care in a wonderful institution in Chicago. However, I would be wrong to deny that there are times in my career when I’ve struggled to negotiate, passed on opportunities given my personal and childcare responsibilities, or watched male colleagues academically soar past me as I run home to make dinner. There have been discouraging times and events when I know that being a mother has slowed me down or being a woman has diminished the opportunities available to me. However, I’ve chosen to define success in the long run, and will continue working my way forward one step at a time, knowing I am far from alone and understanding that practical and societal changes supporting women have occurred and will continue to flourish in our field.

As part of ASCO’s commitment to women in oncology, I am happy to introduce this blog. One of our team members suggested the inclusion of enduring material that may be inspirational, supportive, or just informational. So, in a parting spirit, here are some of my favorite (and sometimes controversial) readings regarding women’s issues or touching on topics that may be female-centric—enjoy!


Dr. Smith is an associate professor of medicine and director of the Lymphoma Program at the University of Chicago School of Medicine. She serves as the leader of the ASCO Professional Development Committee’s Women in Oncology Working Group.



The ideas and opinions expressed on the ASCO Connection Blogs do not necessarily reflect those of ASCO. None of the information posted on ASCOconnection.org is intended as medical, legal, or business advice, or advice about reimbursement for health care services. The mention of any product, service, company, therapy or physician practice on ASCOconnection.org does not constitute an endorsement of any kind by ASCO. ASCO assumes no responsibility for any injury or damage to persons or property arising out of or related to any use of the material contained in, posted on, or linked to this site, or any errors or omissions.


Paul R. Helft, MD

Feb, 07 2017 2:11 PM

Soni, So glad that you are leading this group and this important effort!  I couldn't think of a better representative than you, and am continuously amazed by your work as an incredible leader in hematology/oncology, a great colleague, a wife, and a mother. I look forward to following and hopefully participating in the conversation about women in our field.  PH

Sonali M. Smith, MD

Feb, 08 2017 11:09 AM

Paul--thanks for your kind words and thoughts. Your voice is clearly an important part of the conversation, and your support for women and women's issues is greatly appreciated. I think you'll enjoy the TED talk listed here!


Julia Lee Close, MD

Feb, 08 2017 11:17 AM

What a great start!  Thanks for the links - I look forward to seeing what this blog brings.

Julie Vose, MD, MBA, FASCO

Feb, 09 2017 11:22 AM

Thanks so much Soni for starting this blog! We all need to "pay it forward" to women in Oncology. I want to start a discussion about why women don't speak up at meetings to express their thoughts. Or sometimes when they do speak up, a man might say the same thing 5 min later and everyone hears him, but not what the woman said 5 min ago? Has anyone felt they like they were "dismissed" in a meeting or been silenced while saying something important? Definitely I have! We need to keep the conversation going and don't let anyone silence something you saying


Sonali M. Smith, MD

Feb, 17 2017 8:13 PM

Dear Julie--thank you for lending your voice and leadership to this topic! There are so many areas to understand, including how to be heard and how to make an impact. I look forward to hearing others' thoughts on this.

Ginna Laport, MD

Feb, 17 2017 10:34 PM

HI Soni, So glad that YOU are leading this mission which is filling an deep unmet need for we women in Oncology!


Noelle K. LoConte, MD

Feb, 19 2017 8:03 AM

I think you have hit the issues right on the head.  We collectively still have a lot of work to do.  I look forward to more blog posts! 

Sonali M. Smith, MD

Mar, 01 2017 12:31 PM

Dear Noelle--many thanks for the support! If there is any area you'd like to see featured, please let us know. You are always welcome to write a blog as well--we need all voices!


Noelle K. LoConte, MD

Mar, 02 2017 11:23 AM

Thank you Soni. I would love that! I'm wondering if you saw this from the Academic Surgical Congress Annual Meeting about women in medicine? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHo1x2sk0gw

Kameshwarachari Pushpalatha, MD

Mar, 09 2017 11:57 PM

Heartwarming initiative by You madam. This is an incredible initial step in achieving goals by securing our exclusive space. I'm sure in the coming years , many women oncologists will lend their voice to the concerns of themselves as well as their community at large. I can't wait to be an active participant of the crusade. Best wishes.

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