The Transformative Scientist: More Than Meets the Eye

BY Josh Neman, Ph.D.


Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” As a cancer researcher, we are helping pioneer the development of new therapies and diagnostics that could lead some day to prevention and cure. This dedication and pursuit of transforming ideas into lifesaving breakthroughs in a collaborative environment with physicians, scientists, and other health professionals is to give new hope to people everywhere. This commitment has become more than a career, but a way of life for us scientist. Yet, the role of an academic scientist is to not only conducting cutting edge research in the lab, but as vital to provide guidance in the community.

Whenever patients are asked about their priorities after diagnosis, the majority want to know about: 1) treatment options, 2) the security of knowledge and education about their disease, 3) cutting-edge research, 4) potential clinical trials. This dissemination of information is essential at each stage along the continuum of care, from prevention through to survivorship and end of life care.

Unfortunately, todays doctor’s visits are shorter, while treatment regimens are more complicated. It is estimated that an oncologist with a group of 2,000 patients would have to spend approximately 17 hours a day providing all of the recommended care. And when doctors only have a short amount of time per patient, then there is insufficient time for in-depth conversation and/or education. Thus, patients are left with many unanswered questions. This leads to patient-self education, which may result in misinformation from unverified resources. Ultimately, the patient’s sense of security is wavered at this pivotal time in their lives. This leads to inundating phone calls or emails to doctor, causing an overload to the doctor and thus lowering the overall quality of care for in the healthcare system.

The good news is that there is an untapped resource within the healthcare community that could help improve the quality of patient care and support the doctor: The Scientist. Because scientists are the architects of biomedical research, we are the ideal source to educate patients; this will accordingly provide additional support to the clinical team. Through out the past decade, I have been helping patients and their family members who were scared of their diagnosis with cancer. These patients were left in the dark and wanted the security of knowing the specifics of the disease that had overtaken their bodies. Moreover, many were frustrated that their physician did not provide them adequate time, resources, or treatment options. Realizing this, my goal became to not only educate and empower patients (i.e. letting them know about genetic profile screening or clinical trials), but also work with their doctors to get the best possible treatment options early on.

Therefore, by interacting with scientist, patients can play an active role in promoting their own health through: better understanding the causes of disease and the factors that influence health, knowing when to seek additional advice and professional help, adopting better health behaviors, and providing feedback to enable assessment of the quality of care.

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