Results from the ESMO Exploratory Survey on the Challenges of Female Oncologists, a project launched by ESMO President, Martine Piccart, MD, PhD, Professor of Oncology at the Universit? Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and Director of Medicine at the Jules Bordet Institute, in Brussels, Belgium, were presented during the ESMO Women for Oncology (W4O) Forum at the 2013 European Cancer Congress ECC2013 Congress, being held in Amsterdam, The Netherlands and show that the relationship with patients (79%), intellectual stimulation (70%) and pride in being able to fight a challenging disease (60%) are the key points that make the job rewarding for female oncologists.[1]

The The W4O is an initiative designed to build a network of women in oncology. The forum aims to promote a dialogue about opportunities and strategic solutions to common problems in the field and to support female oncologists access leadership positions. Participants discussed their significant efforts to achieve career goals and the ways in which they contribute to the profession. Of general concern noted by the participants of the forum is the lack of role models and mentors, flexible career options to allow for better professional/personal balance needed to build numbers in leadership positions.

Respect and equality
?This initiative intends to explore and analyse the world of female oncologists in order to devise activities and projects aimed at ensuring respect and equality in a context where the ?female work force? is steadily increasing,? Piccart said.

Patient benefit
The results have also a positive effect on patients, who see their doctors? enthusiasm and knowledge reflected in the quality of care they receive from them. However, it is still difficult for female oncologist to reaching leadership positions. It has been estimated that only less than 15% of female oncologists have a leadership position within their field of work, as demonstrated by a detailed analysis of the reported roles in the ESMO survey.

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These figures ? supported and confirmed by a qualitative analysis based on 13 interviews with female oncologists in important positions ? have an enormous impact on daily work in terms of time and effort, often to the detriment of private life. One figure is of significant importance: 56% of female oncologists conduct over 40 patient visits a week, dedicating a significant amount of time after the first visit (20-40 minutes, equal to almost half the appointment) listening to patients? concerns and doubts, and in 35% to 45% of cases giving their personal mobile phone number so patients or their friends and family can contact them.

Not a coincidence
It is therefore no coincidence that the most important requests concern the development of more flexible training, fellowship programs and continuous medical education courses, mentorship schemes and online tools to help improve their professional careers. More family-friendly services enabling them to attend international conferences are also desirable. However, while respondents stressed the issue of private life in the management of their everyday routine (60% of respondents believed that the greatest challenge for their professional growth was being able to optimise the relationship between work and family), interestingly gender-related issues did not directly emerge from the survey; rather issues concerning ?access? to certain roles arose, despite the fact that female oncologists believe they can contribute to the profession with their excellent multitasking skills (48%), ability to listen and talk to patients (45%), understanding of the human aspect of the disease (33%), as well as their great organizational skills (32%) and professionalism (29%).

?Our female oncologists,? Piccart explained, ?are women who are highly motivated to improve their professional and scientific knowledge, especially needed in a rapidly evolving field such as medical oncology. It is no coincidence that over 60% of respondents were in favour of ESMO implementing ?flexible? training and fellowship programmes to help improve their professional careers. We have suspected this for some time, and now we have confirmation. There are many different opinions, as well as situations: the ESMO W4O project was created in order to allow us to listen to, share and dedicate due attention to these issues with passion and commitment, with the strong belief that each step in this direction also helps patients; whose care remains the main objective for all of us.?

Other panelists of the W40 Forum in Amsterdam, The Netherlands included:Cora Sternberg (Italy), Susana Banerjee (UK), Cristiana Sessa (Switzerland), Pilar Garrido (Spain), Marina Garassino (Italy), Enriqueta Felip (Spain), Elisabeth De Vries (The Netherlands), Monica Arnedos (France), Gabriela Kornek (Austria), Elske van der Wall (The Netherlands), Erika Martinelli (Italy), Solange Peters (Switzerland) and Nadia Harbeck (Denmark).

For more information:
[1] ESMO exploratory study on the challenges of female oncologists [Study Results]

Educational Book
The Educational Book from ECC 2013 is published as a supplement to the European Journal of Cancer. [Download]

Photo: Professor Martine Piccart, MD, Ph.D, President of ESMO – European Society for Medical Oncology. Photo courtesy: ESMO.

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