2012 was filled with many notable events for me, both personally and professionally. In between working full-time, attending several national veterinary conferences, and enjoying a few relaxing weekends at the beach, I also found time to plan a wedding and get married, and, more recently, to take on the role as author of a weekly online column on veterinary oncology. It seemed a fitting opportunity to use this entry to express some of my goals for 2013, as they pertain to veterinary oncology, in the form of resolutions for the New Year.
I will continue to work at keeping current within my field.
Veterinary oncology is an ever-changing specialty and each month several research articles are published in our most noteworthy journals on various topics directly related to my field.
These studies are usually designed to report new treatment options or outcomes for pets with cancer. Truthfully, however, most clinical veterinary research isn’t very sound and you have to be wary of sweeping generalizations and faulty conclusions. Veterinary research studies typically have very small numbers of animals, and treatments are inconsistent and tend to be retrospective rather than prospective in design.
One of the biggest challenges I face is being able to make recommendations to owners when there is a lack of evidence-based information to base such a recommendation on. Where research leaves off, I fill in the gap with my own clinical experience. Still, even when the conclusion of a study isn’t particularly insightful, I still feel there is something to be learned and I resolve to continue to broaden my knowledge base so I can continue to offer cutting edge treatments for my patients.
I will maintain a patient and understanding attitude when interacting with the house officers in our hospital.
It is far too easy on a busy day to forget that one of my main responsibilities at work entails the education and training of veterinary interns and residents.
During my own internship, I worked with a fantastic oncologist. He was a wonderful instructor and mentor, possessing a rare combination of patience, intelligence, and sense of humor found in the most influential teachers, and because of my experience working with this particular doctor, I decided on oncology as a career choice.
It would be the ultimate repayment if in some way I could offer the same amount of mentoring to a new doctor. But a hectic appointment schedule and multitude of responsibilities within and outside of the hospital doesn’t always favor my ability to stop and realize teaching opportunities when they arise. I chose to pursue specialty medicine and, as such, I am obligated to educate others about my area of expertise.
I will spend more of my days off being "off."
As much as I accept the responsibilities associated with my chosen career path and acknowledge that as the sole oncologist at my hospital I am literally on call at all times for my patients, I should not be expected to compromise my own sanity for the sake of an occupation. Maintaining a better sense of balance outside of work will also help make my time at work more enjoyable.
I’m not unaware of the irony of working in a field where time is so precious while simultaneously feeling as though my time is not my own because of the technical and emotional toll of my work responsibilities.
As the famed opera singer Jessye Norman said: "Problems arise in that one has to find a balance between what people need from you and what you need for yourself."
I will be more accepting of the owners who pursue an appointment with me simply because they want to know what to expect from their pet’s diagnosis of cancer.
These owners willfully indicate they have no interest in learning about chemotherapy or radiation therapy. I am typically perplexed when this happens, often wondering why they would take the time to meet with me knowing they are uninterested in hearing what it is I have to offer. Invariably, these owners have only a few questions for me: How will the cancer progress? How will I know when it’s time? How much time do I have?
Truthfully, I feel my answers are all too often inadequate as those are the most difficult questions to answer. I so rarely have follow-up with patients that do not undergo treatment, and often I have to provide my "best guess" as to how I think things will go for that particular pet. It’s easy to become frustrated during these appointments, but I can understand an owner’s perspective and hope to remember it is my expertise and my opinion they are seeking.
I will finish my first book.
While in vet school I kept a diary of my experiences, chronicling nearly each and every significant moment from the first day of my life in Ithaca, NY, to graduation, and even beyond. About a year ago I started compiling my entries into what I hoped would someday be a memoir of sorts. For some reason, even though the material is readily available and the amount of work I need to put into organizing the entries is minimal, I’ve been stalling on the work. Although I’m not sure the audience for such a book would be too large, it is still a personal goal of mine to accomplish this year.
I am grateful for the continued opportunity to use this forum to educate pet owners about cancer. I wish everyone a happy and healthy 2013!
Dr. Joanne Intile