A Day in the Life of an Oncologist in an Academic Setting—Two Perspectives

Dec 20, 2012

Junior Faculty Perspective

  Member since: 2009

Institution: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, medical oncologist

Specialties: Lung cancer, mesothelioma, multiple primary lung cancers

By Marjorie Glass Zauderer, MD

When I was asked to write about “A Day in the Life of an Oncologist in an Academic Setting,” this seemed like a daunting task. No day is typical and no two days are alike. This is both the challenge and reward of working in an academic setting. Put another way, every day I am asked to do something I’ve never done before.

The benefit—every day I get to learn something new. The downside—every day I have to learn something new.

Each day, there is a moment when I must complete a task for the first time and I don’t always know where to start. Depending on your temperament and support system, that moment can be anxiety-ridden and/or the beginning of an adventure that expands your knowledge and makes you a better clinician and researcher. For me, those moments are the beginning of a literal journey—around the office corridors. I am fortunate to work as part of an incredibly supportive group of thoracic oncologists—and when I am faced with a new challenge, I do walk-rounds visiting my colleagues to gather well-heeled advice. On these walk-rounds, I not only collect advice specific to my question, but I am entertained by anecdotes that usually begin with, “When I started on faculty...”

Although each day is different, my weeks fall into predictable patterns. I see patients on Wednesdays and Fridays and spend the rest of the week on research and administrative tasks. Three mornings a week, my day starts with academic conferences, research working groups, and/or grand rounds. On clinic days, I typically start seeing patients at 8:30 AM. Because my practice is still growing, I will see anywhere from 12 to 20 patients a day. The rest of my week is spent writing protocols, reviewing research, writing manuscripts and grants, meeting with collaborators, keeping up on literature, and making sure my patients are doing well.




I spend eight weeks and five weekends per year on inpatient service, rounding on our thoracic oncology patients admitted to the hospital. The learning curve for my faculty transition has been steep, but I am growing into my new role. Because there are always many disparate demands on my time, organization and focus are essential to my productivity. Dedicating time at the beginning and end of the day to return patient calls allows me to address patient care in a timely fashion yet focus on other work throughout the day. I love the thrill and challenge that each day poses, and I have a group of mid-level and senior faculty who attend to my career development needs. I have found the right balance for me of “the familiar” and “the new,” and I go to work each day with excitement and anticipation for what I will learn.




Training Program Director Perspective

  Member since: 2000

Institution: Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Director of Hematology/Oncology Fellowship Program and Associate Professor of Medicine

Specialties: Head and neck cancer

By Jill Gilbert, MD

When I think about the meaning of “A Day in the Life” for an academic physician, I recognize that there is no such thing. One of the most wonderful aspects of academia remains that “the life” changes every day. The variety of activities proves constantly stimulating and allows one to “exercise” different parts of the brain on a daily basis. However, this same multifaceted daily schedule requires concentration, discipline, and successful compartmentalization in order to complete tasks. In general, one should strive for “purity of task” without interruptions.

As a Program Director (PD), my tasks may differ from others, but all of us have some sort of teaching or administrative responsibility, and one can substitute these duties in place of my PD duties. The schedule on the left is a representation of a normal week (though some work is performed after hours and on weekends). Some might choose to arrange a full-day theme, such as “research day” versus “fellowship/education day.” However, this all depends on one’s attention span and work patterns.

Although the variety and interaction with trainees attracts me to academia, this life is not for everyone. Even for the seasoned academician, this path holds several challenges such as:How does one define their academic “identity” when the increasing and varied pulls on their time require them to be a master of many things? Is the nonclinical care compensated at a rate that allows one to “buy down” the clinical time in order to complete the other tasks?

However, for the person who is interested in many things, academia can present an ever-changing and interactive career path with both clinical and nonclinical challenges. The beauty of medicine as a field is that we have an abundance of career choices, and fellowship represents a “speed dating” of sorts for the different career paths.



Example of Dr. Gilbert’s Week



  • 7-8 AM: Head and Neck Tumor Board
  • 8-11 AM: Meet with fellows; documentation for fellowship program, curriculum, and programmatic development; answer patient/physician calls
  • 11 AM-12 PM: Meeting with Division Head about fellowship issues and updates
  • 12-1 PM: Lunch meeting
  • 1-4 PM: Work on manuscript or protocol or other clinical research issues
  • 4-5 PM: Answer patient/physician calls


  • 8-11 AM: Meet with fellows; documentation for fellowship program, curriculum, and programmatic development
  • 11 AM-1 PM: Fellowship or research work: Meetings with colleagues or visitors about budgetary issues, research projects, or fellowship issues
  • 1-2 PM: Research: Head and Neck Clinical Research team meeting
  • 2-3 PM: Clinical Care: Head and Neck Clinical Care Multidisciplinary team
  • 3-4 PM: Research Phase I team meeting
  • 4-5 PM: Clinical Care: Answer patient/physician calls, catch up on documentation
  • 5-6 PM: Fellowship Core Lecture Series


  • 8 AM-6 PM: Head and Neck Clinic: I see approximately 25 to 30 patients on a clinic day. I have one fellow in my clinic and at least one resident or medical student.


  • 8-9 AM: Department of Medicine Grand Rounds
  • 9-10 AM: Weekly progress meeting with medical student mentee
  • 10 AM-12 PM: Answer patient/physician calls, catch up on clinical documentation
  • 12-1 PM: Fellows Journal Club
  • 1-2 PM: ASCO Career Development conference call
  • 2-5 PM: Research or fellowship: Will work on most pressing issue
  • 5-6 PM: Answer patient/physician calls


  • 7-8 AM: Fellow Case Conference
  • 8 AM-6 PM: Head and Neck Clinic time



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