In 2016 I was invited to do a sabbatical at Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School in Boston. Dana Farber is a world-leader in the treatment of breast cancer patients as well as in clinical and laboratory research. I was able to experience daily life as a medical oncologist in the prestigious breast cancer unit.
Dana Farber is notionally a private hospital but has a large fundraising department it relies heavily on. In fact, one of their major supporters is baseball team the Boston Red Sox, who I saw play on a couple of occasions.
I found treating patients there to be not much different from treating them at Lifehouse, but at ten times the scale. There are over 25 clinic rooms and patients start lining up from 7:30 am. Each medical oncologist has their own nurse who is integral to patient care both from a logistical perspective and in terms of psychological support for the patient. And, as at Lifehouse, we had weekly multidisciplinary meetings to discuss our patients’ treatment.
Each of the 25 medical oncologists had a specialty research interest for which they had earned international repute covering clinical trials, laboratory research and rehabilitation of breast cancer patients. Most of them had trained at Harvard Medical School so the standard in the team was high.
When I came home to Australia I felt rested, having had a break from the routine I’d been doing for the previous 20 years. I felt privileged to have been involved in such a reputable breast cancer unit and invigorated by the ideas I was exposed to and could bring back to Lifehouse. Although we operate on a smaller scale I would like to see us expand our breast cancer unit to treat more patients and be involved in more trials, particularly those which trial new drugs that can improve the outcome of patients with breast cancer.