Early and mid-career is a highly challenging and difficult time for young oncologists and hematologists. Compounding the struggles of a naturally difficult profession are the typical challenges of balancing work with family while establishing oneself within a career. While each young oncologist faces a unique set of challenges, it is clear that this is a difficult time within both their careers and their personal lives. Typically, early-career oncologists are beginning to start families while also attempting to establish themselves in their fields. There is immense pressure to balance heavy patient loads with the demands of family life. While most younger oncologists desire a healthy work-life balance, that is incredibly difficult to achieve. According to one early-career oncologist , “Balancing professional and family life is the most difficult part of what we do. It’s a work in progress.”
Oncology is a highly competitive field, and today’s beginning oncologists have received more training, and often have more qualifications, than in the past. However, they must still compete with older, established colleagues for position, funding, and prestige. Furthermore, older established oncologists are more frequently choosing not to retire, decreasing the availability of jobs and opportunities for advancement. This can often create tension among younger oncologists who seek to build their careers but cannot find a path forward.
An additional challenge of early oncology careers is that medical school and fellowships rarely provide training in business skills such as paperwork, presentation skills, office management, and networking. These skills are essential for any oncologist wishing to develop a successful career, particularly if they wish to advance into a position of responsibility. According to one oncology fellow, “No one starting out has training about setting up a practice, how to get referrals, how to do a contact—none of that is taught. It’s a huge problem.”
An important question is how current independent medical education (IME) providers can help young oncologists overcome the challenges of early career development. One way is to tailor educational activities directly to these learners, with content that is relevant not only to their education but also to their personal and professional growth. An example of such a program is the Young Investigator’s Forum in Lung Cancer , which brings together lung cancer experts and early and mid-career lung cancer specialists. While the meeting includes discussion of the most recent and relevant data, there is a major focus on helping oncologists develop career skills and connections that will serve them throughout their lives. Topics covered include those that are not often covered in medical school, such as how to effectively present data, how to communicate with a multidisciplinary team, and how to act as a leader within a group or institution. In addition, early-career oncologists are able to interact with more senior oncologists and receive advice and feedback and make the essential connections necessary to advance within their field.