Oncology Fellow Advisor presents our Day in the Life series. In each segment, we interview an oncologist about how they got into the field of oncology and their typical workday.

 

In this issue, we interview Jennifer Eads, MD, recent recipient of the 2011 American Society for Clinical Oncology Merit Award. Dr. Eads is now in her third year of fellowship in hematology and oncology at University Hospitals Case Medical Center and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. We are thrilled to include a fellow in this series.

If you would like to nominate someone to be interviewed for our Day in the Life series, please send your nomination via email to oncologyfellowadvisor@mcmahonmed.com.

Few doctors follow a straight line throughout their training and career, and the ability to assess and choose, and move on if necessary, can be critical to identifying the right path and following it.

As a schoolgirl, Jennifer Eads, MD, knew that she wanted to pursue something scientific. Working in a doctor’s office while in high school, she enjoyed working with patients and doctors. “I thought I would probably want to go to medical school; it seemed like a natural way to combine my interest in science and interacting with people,” she said. “My parents, although they didn’t push, also suggested medical school would be a way to combine my interests.”

But her initiation in that small-town office did not prepare Dr. Eads for the competitiveness of pre-med training she experienced at the University of California, Davis, where she found herself in classrooms full of 500 students, all equally determined to become doctors.

“It was a bit overwhelming,” Dr. Eads said. “I went with every intention of going to medical school, and I’d heard about competition for getting into medical school, but I didn’t really know what that meant exactly.”

Although she studied hard for her degree in genetics, Dr. Eads developed a Plan B in case she did not get into medical school. “So I started working in a plant genetics lab doing research and learning techniques for molecular biology,” she said. The confluence of enjoying her job in the lab and being put off by the pre-med competitiveness led Dr. Eads to switch gears. “I thought maybe I would go to graduate school and work in biotech,” she said.

Dr. Eads took a job as a molecular biology research associate at a biotech company in the San Francisco Bay area. She worked at that job for 2 years, but within 6 months she started to doubt the sustainability of that type of work. “I enjoyed the science, but I was in the lab all the time, and as much as I liked my co-workers, it wasn’t like talking to patients,” Dr. Eads said. “It was a little isolating.” Also, it was quite different from academic research. “In biotech, if something isn’t working they quickly change gears and refocus.” Dr. Eads found not being able to see a project through from beginning to end a little frustrating.

While still working, she started volunteering at a children’s hospital and began the long process of applying for medical school. She was accepted at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, and eagerly relocated to the East Coast. Dr. Eads started out with the goal of becoming a pediatrician but ultimately decided that pediatrics did not offer the challenge she was looking for.

“When I did my medicine rotation, I found the more complicated people were in terms of their medical problems, the more interested I was.” By the time she applied for residency, Dr. Eads had identified gastroenterology as her focus, but soon realized that hematology and oncology was a better fit. “My first rotation in residency was on the hematology and oncology inpatient service. I really liked it, and I never changed my mind after that.”

In 2011, Dr. Eads received an American Society for Clinical Oncology Merit Award for her research with Neal Meropol, MD, on the characterization of psychosocial barriers that influence patient decisions to participate (or not) in clinical trials. “It was accepted for an oral presentation, which was very exciting—I was expecting if anything to have it accepted as a poster presentation,” she said.

Perhaps the biggest factor that has propelled her in her medical career so far has been Dr. Meropol, her mentor. “I have had several mentors and still do, but he’s probably my primary mentor and the one who has helped me the most,” Dr. Eads said. “If you find someone who really invests their time in you and wants you to do well, that really makes a difference. They not only help you identify projects you want to work on, but they help you understand the steps along the way in fellowship and what you need to learn in order to achieve your goals.”

Dr. Eads’s next steps will be applying for and securing a job—another fairly arduous task. But with all the exploring she did to this point, she knows what she wants to do and can look forward to a bit of continuity. “My plan is to stay in academia in the area of gastrointestinal oncology, both in clinic seeing patients and doing clinical trials research in the same field,” Dr. Eads said. “That’s what my research projects focus on now, and I’d like to continue doing that as a faculty member of an academic institution.”

 


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