Apr 17, 2023
By Geraldine Carroll, ASCO Publishing
Carolyn D. Runowicz, MD, FASCO, of Florida International University, has been honored with the 2023 Hologic, Inc., Endowed Women Who Conquer Cancer Mentorship Award from Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation. The award recognizes outstanding women leaders in oncology and role models who have excelled as mentors to women training to be cancer clinicians, educators, and researchers.
“It’s amazing to be recognized by my peers for this award,” Dr. Runowicz said. “I’ve been very privileged to mentor people from all stages of medical school and faculty.”
Dr. Runowicz will receive her award on June 4 at the 2023 ASCO Annual Meeting. She will then participate in a roundtable discussion on mentoring and career development.
A tenured professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine at Florida International University in Miami, Dr. Runowicz is an internationally renowned leader in gynecologic oncology and women’s health. In addition to being a formidable and nurturing role model to a generation of medical students, residents, fellows, and faculty, Dr. Runowicz has initiated and led key, innovative clinical trials on novel therapies to advance the field, and has authored more than 200 scientific articles and five books.
Dr. Runowicz served as the first woman president of the Society of Gynecologic Oncology (2000) and as the first gynecologic oncologist on the ASCO Board of Directors (2011-2015). She also served as president of the American Cancer Society in 2005, and was appointed by President George W. Bush to the National Cancer Advisory Board in 2004, a role she held for four years.
Medicine As a Privilege and Passion
Dr. Runowicz developed her mentoring skills early on in her residency at a time when residents were expected to work every other night and every other weekend.
“Once you got through your first year, and the next wave of residents arrived, you kind of took them under your wing because they couldn't survive if they didn't have a friend and mentor telling them that things would get better,” she said. Although, over the years, the demands on residents and training have become more humane, today Dr. Runowicz is heartened to see her students still helping their peers.
Many mentors stress the importance of time management, but Dr. Runowicz said it was the passion for the job that propelled her forward.
“I think medicine is a privilege and a passion, and so I never watched the clock,” Dr. Runowicz said. “I enjoy what I do, though, so I don’t see it as work.”
Nurturing Women Leaders in Oncology
As the first woman to have served as president of several renowned cancer societies, bringing women into leadership roles has been a long time coming, Dr. Runowicz stated.
“Having a diverse membership in any society—having men and women, gynecologic oncologists, surgical oncologists, and medical oncologists—only enhances your learning and the environment,” she said.
Striving for work-life balance is a challenge in medicine, but Dr. Runowicz believes that people are more mindful of the need to preserve equilibrium than when she started her career. She is also heartened to see residents covering for colleagues on maternity leave and that the Family and Medical Leave Act offers important protections for women.
Overall, having women role models—mentors and advisors—is key for medical students, residents, and fellows to thrive.
“I've been doing this for a long time now, and I think spending the time with the person, getting to know them and getting to know what they want, is important,” she said.
Dr. Runowicz was especially proud recently on Match Day when her students matched in exceptional programs across the country.
“I was like a proud mother, along with their real parents, sending them off to their next chapter—that payback doesn’t have a price tag,” she said.
Supporting Trainees to Advance Gynecologic Cancer Care
Dr. Runowicz also supports medical students as a long-serving board member of Hearing the Ovarian Cancer Whisper (HOW), a foundation that raises funds to support basic and translational research through the Jacquie Liggett Ovarian Cancer Research Fellowship. HOW provides support to medical students interested in gynecologic oncology through the Dr. Robert C. Knapp Medical Student Award.
“Our goal is to increase the knowledge of our trainees about ovarian cancer and to understand the role of a gynecologic oncologist,” Dr. Runowicz said. Because, ultimately, the students will be trained in the role of oncologist, as well as in the symptoms and treatment of gynecologic cancers, “hopefully the water level [will] rise and all women with gynecologic cancer will get better care.”
Dr. Runowicz credits many cherished mentors over the years for helping her become an acclaimed leader in oncology, especially her most ardent supporter, her husband, Sheldon H. Cherry, MD. She is also grateful to many others, including past ASCO presidents, for being her mentors and role models.
Looking to the future, Dr. Runowicz feels inspired that women now outnumber men in terms of medical school enrollment.1 She noted that as the number of women who start out as medical students, and then become residents, fellows, and faculty, increases, there is a natural progression into leadership.
“I think that makes for a great future for women in medicine,” she said.
Read more about the 2023 Special Awards recipients.
- Association of American Medical Colleges. 2022 FACTS: Applicants and Matriculants Data. https://www.aamc.org/data-reports/students-residents/data/2022-facts-applicants-and-matriculants-data. Accessed April 14, 2023.