Tuesday, June 30, 2015

UAB Women in Medicine: Wendy Demark-Wahnefried. Ph.D., R.D.

Q&A With Dr. Wendy Demark-Wahnefried 

Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, Ph.D., R.D., is professor and Webb Endowed Chair of Nutrition Sciences and the associate director for cancer prevention and control at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center.

What made you decide to pursue a career in the medical field?
I had a desire to help people, but at the same time I wanted to pursue a career that was biology-driven.

What kind of research do you do? What are you working on right now?
 I am a nutrition-scientist. Currently, most of my work is dedicated to the development and testing of interventions 
to improve the overall health and functioning of cancer survivors. In addition, our laboratory is keenly interested in finding out how obesity drives more aggressive cancers and whether weight loss interventions can improve prognosis of both breast and prostate cancer.

What kind of obstacles do you face being a woman in the medical field? Did you face any as you were going to medical school?  
 Although I pursued a pre-med program at the University of Michigan, I ultimately decided to pursue a Ph.D. instead of an M.D. Over the course of my career I have worked in a variety of settings that range from the department of surgery at Duke where there were significantly fewer women, to those in which the gender composition was more balanced. While it may be more difficult for women to initially “be heard” in settings that are more male-dominant, I firmly believe that nothing speaks like success and if you do good work, and you are persistent, you will eventually be recognized. Most of the largest obstacles I have faced in my career are not because I am a woman, but rather due to other factors.

What do you like about working with the cancer center/for UAB?
UAB is the third cancer center under which I have worked. I started at Duke and was there for 17 years rising from a project manager to a full professor and then was recruited to MD Anderson Cancer Center, where I spent three years. I came to UAB and like working here because of the collaborative research environment, the great director [Dr. Ed Partridge] and that fact that at UAB, cancer is more than just a business and there is a true concern about the community.

Do you have any advice for girls wanting to get into the medical field?  
The medical field and particularly the research field is terrifically competitive. You really need to work hard, develop thick skin and keep trying. This is generic advice and applies for both males and females.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

UAB Women in Medicine: Kimberly Whelan, M.D.

Q&A With Kimberly Whelan, M.D.  
Dr. Whelan is Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and is currently the Medical Director of the TLC clinic and Childhood Cancer's Survivor Program. 

What inspired you to become a doctor?  

Becoming a doctor has always been what I wanted to do. My mom would tell stories about when people would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up I didn’t say doctor. I said pediatric oncologist. I guess I just always loved science and always had a great relationship with all my doctors.  

Where did you attend school? 
I went to school all over the place. I got my medical degree from the University of South Carolina, did my pediatric residency at Vanderbilt University and my fellowship in pediatric hematology and oncology here at UAB. I stayed here because I love Birmingham and the group of people I work with. I’m thankful I put down my roots here.  
Did you face any challenges as a woman earning a medical degree?  
I can remember as a resident walking into a room with a male student and the patients would assume the man was the doctor. Some patients are still like that, but I think we’ve come a long way since those times. Eighty percent of pediatric residents here at Children’s are female. Females are supported in this department.  

What is your research focus? 
I do research in childhood cancer survivorship. UAB is a part of the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study (CCSS), and we are a leader in this because of what we’ve learned about later effects of survivorship. We also use our own survivorship population to look at all sorts of things, like fertility studies and effects of exercise in survivors. So I am a part of bigger a smaller studies.  

What’s something important you think women should know if they’re pursuing a degree in medicine? 
I think the first thing is to work hard and not get discouraged. You also need a really good mentor and support system at home to help you along the way. It’s a really exciting time for women in medicine. The women before us have opened so many doors, and now we can be involved in anything - from research to leadership and everything in between. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

UAB Women in Medicine: Uma Borate, M.D.

Q&A With Uma Borate

Uma Borate is an Assistant Professor and the Co-Associate Director of the Hematology/Oncology Fellowship Program. She did her medical school training at the B.J. Medical College in Pune, India, before moving to Philadelphia to complete her residency and then to Birmingham to complete her fellowship and start her career. 

What inspired you to pursue a career in medicine?
I guess you could say it’s the family business. I grew up listening to my parents live and breathe medicine. I never really saw this profession as optional, because I saw how fulfilling it was to my parents, and I always knew I wanted that for myself. It was more than a job to them. I figured this out early on.

Can you tell me a little more about what brought you to Birmingham?
I grew up in India. I came here in 2002 to do my post-graduate education here at UAB, and I’ve been here ever since. I trained here as a fellow to do hematology/oncology. This is the place where I met my husband, and this is where I fully figured out what I wanted to do when I grow up, so Birmingham is very special to me.

What kind of challenges do you face being a woman in the medical field?
I don’t think there are many I had to face until I had my child. At that point, I knew I wanted to be a successful doctor and I knew I wanted to give 100 percent to being a wonderful mother. You don’t even know where to begin to achieve compromise. To me, that is the hardest part of being a woman and a doctor.

What is your favorite part of working in the Cancer Center?
The most exciting part of being a doctor who takes care of cancer patients is that every day there’s a new treatment or research finding we didn’t even know about five years ago. Just knowing that I am a part of that is exciting and fulfilling.

What are you working on right now?
I do a lot of research in the field of leukemia. We are now in the era of personalized medicine, and UAB is leading the pack in this. Being involved in that effort is very cool. 

Do you have any advice for young women interested in joining the medical field?
You just have to be focused and love what you do. This line of work is so much more than a job. It’s time-fulfilling and exhausting, but most of all, it is endlessly rewarding.