Two years ago, we introduced you to Dr. Tanya Watt and Dr. Wes Miller, two young doctors and extraordinary humanitarians who were entering the fellowship training program at the Aflac Cancer Center and Blood Disorders Service of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. CURE Childhood Cancer fully funded this specialty training then, and has continued to do so over this entire two year period. CURE accomplished this goal thanks in part to the contribution of the Sam Robb Fund, a memorial fund set up under CURE in memory of young Sam Robb who fought a heroic battle with osteosarcoma. With Dr. Watt and Dr. Miller in the midst of the third and final year of their fellowships, we spoke with them to get some insight into their experiences:
Looking back, Dr. Watt reflects on how the foundation of clinical research has led her to focus on preventive treatments for children who conquer the disease, but battle the long-term effects of radiation therapy.
“I chose to pursue the Masters of Science in Clinical Research, which teaches physicians how to advance treatments in public health much like receiving a Masters in Public Health at a college or university,” explains Dr. Watt. “The first year was entirely clinical, which involved the basic nuts and bolts from diagnosis to the treatment of children with cancer. It’s the third and final year of being a fellow when it gets really interesting,” she adds.
The third year is also when a thesis must be written and submitted, and the real focus of a physician’s future comes into play. Dr. Watt’s chosen focus is pediatric hematology/oncology, and both Dr. Watt and Dr. Miller are setting their sights on becoming board-certified pediatric oncologists. Yet each will diverge into different directions upon completion of their fellowship training.
“I’m going to stay on at the AFLAC Cancer Center as a clinical instructor where a good deal of my time will be devoted to researching ways to prevent skin cancer, which is the long-term effect of radiation, in children who have undergone aggressive radiation therapy,” Dr. Watt says. She also wants to help facilitate a closer working relationship between lab researchers and physicians.
“It is essential to sustain an open dialogue between lab researchers and physicians. Having the opportunity to be on both sides of that coin will help me facilitate more open lines of communication so information can flow in both directions in order to advance individualized treatments in the future.”
According to Dr. Miller, about ten years ago fellowships were probably 2/3 basic science research and 1/3 clinical care. Today, however, doctors generally spend about 2/3 of their time pursuing a scholarly activity, basic lab research being an example of such an activity, and 1/3 or their time in direct patient care. However, hematology/oncology doctors who are beyond their fellowship training may choose one of many combinations with respect to how they devote their time. Most do not spend any time in the basic science lab. While he knows his ultimate satisfaction will come from devoting most of his time directly to patient care, his two years in the lab have enabled him to establish a potentially groundbreaking study into a disease process called graft-versus-host disease which is a morbid and sometimes fatal complication of bone marrow transplantation so that we can better understand it and hopefully prevent it’s occurrence!
Like Dr. Watt, his first two years as a CURE-funded fellow have helped point him in a direction of patient care which truly excites him.
“One of the great things about CURE’s generosity in funding the fellowship program here at the AFLAC Cancer Center is that it really is making a difference,” Dr. Miller says. “I couldn’t have dreamed of working in such a revolutionary area of medicine without CURE’s financial support. I truly feel I am a better doctor for this experience, and CURE Childhood Cancer made it entirely possible.”