Why I Chose Pediatric Oncology and Research

Apr 13, 2020 | Childhood Cancer, Rally Blog, Rally Researchers, Research | 0 comments

Rally Researcher and pediatric oncologist Dr. Michael Kinnaman received a Rally Postdoctoral and Clinical Research Fellow Grant. In part one of this two-part series, Dr. Kinnaman shares his story and why he was drawn to pediatric oncology and research.

Have you ever wondered about the career path of a pediatric oncologist and clinical researcher? Dr. Kinnaman’s journey began with a decision made during his sophomore year in college.

Having dual passions for law and science, Dr. Kinnaman majored in both political science and biology. He had envisioned earning a law degree after graduation and working for a biotechnology or pharmaceutical company. However, this vision began to change after a foray into clinical research, as well as a brief hospital stay.

The following is part one of our two-part blog series:

Dr. Kinnaman Shares How He Discovered His Passion For Medicine

My journey to becoming a pediatric oncologist and researcher started with a decision made during my sophomore year at the University of Michigan. I entered college with dual passions for law and science, leading me to major in both political science and biology. I envisioned myself earning a law degree after graduation and working for a biotechnology or pharmaceutical company. I began doubting my plan after I started oncology outcome research with Dr. Cheryl Lee, a urologic oncologist.

Through my experiences with Dr. Lee, I gained firsthand knowledge on oncology care at a major cancer center. This included observing initial consultations, chemotherapy infusions, and coming face to face with patients’ tumors as they were removed in the operating room. I also enjoyed my first foray into clinical research. It was exciting to know our research could improve the quality of life or overall prognosis for patients with bladder cancer.

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Midway through my sophomore year, I was hospitalized for a post-operative infection after an orthopedic procedure. During that brief hospital stay, I was overwhelmed by the compassionate care I received from the nurses, residents, and doctors. In particular, the residents had a profound impact on me. I asked them numerous questions about their experiences as residents and about what they most enjoyed about medicine.

When I asked them how they handled working eighty-hour workweeks, they replied that it’s easy when you are passionate about the work you are doing, and you enjoy doing it. By the time I was discharged on Christmas Eve, I was certain of my choice to pursue a career in medicine.

Oncology Research: A Passion Uncovered

After completing my undergraduate studies, I accepted a position at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center as a clinical research assistant (CRA), working with melanoma patients. Through this experience, I developed an appreciation and understanding of the complexity and organization required to facilitate multi-center trials for new and exciting therapeutics.

I attended cooperative oncology group meetings and saw new ideas for research born out of passionate academic discussion. I was also fortunate enough to be the CRA for one of the first studies involving immunotherapy to be offered to patients with melanoma. Oncology research was becoming a passion of mine before even starting medical school!

I enrolled at Stony Brook University School of Medicine in the fall of 2009. Before medical school, most of my experiences in medicine had been with adults; however, after my clerkship on the pediatric ward, I knew I found my calling. I loved pediatrics and when people would ask me why, I would give them a simple but truthful reply: kids are hilarious! On top of that, there was a heightened sense of passion and purpose among the staff who cared for these children that I had not experienced on my adult rotations.

What inspired me the most was the resiliency of children in the face of life-threatening illnesses. Throughout the multiple procedures, needle sticks, and toxic treatments they endured, they rarely skipped a beat or made excuses to not participate in their planned therapies, school lessons, or child life activities.

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Dr. Michael Kinnaman with a patient

 

The Path That Lead to Pediatric Oncology

Pediatric oncology became a primary interest of mine during an elective rotation with the pediatric hematology-oncology team at Stony Brook University. While on my elective, I realized that pediatric oncology satisfied my desire for a career focused on research, teaching, managing both acute and chronic medical problems, and long-lasting patient relationships.

Pediatric oncology offered a diverse patient population, with complex and fascinating pathophysiology, and an extensive amount of both basic science and clinical research opportunities. This desire to pursue a career in pediatric oncology was confirmed during my pediatric residency at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, where I was able to immerse myself deeper into the field through my rotations and electives.

To realize my dream of becoming a pediatric oncologist, I applied for pediatric hematology/oncology fellowships across the country, but I felt most at home at the joint New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center/Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) program. MSK had always held a special place in my heart. My mother worked there for 15 years as an administrative assistant to Dr. Pramod Sogani, a surgical urologic oncologist.

I did summer research at MSK as an undergraduate and would dream of someday walking the wards as an attending oncologist. It was an incredibly surreal moment when I received the email informing me I had matched at MSK.

Stay tuned to read part 2 of Dr. Kinnaman’s story.

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