Radiation Oncology Corner
An interview with Seth A. Rosenthal, MD, FACR, FASTRO; Chair, ACR Commission on Radiation Oncology
Tell us a little about your medical background.
It has been a long and winding road, starting with Medical School at Yale, which has a strong tradition in radiation oncology. I did my internship at Yale-New Haven Hospital, followed by residency in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I received very strong clinical and academic training, and took a position as University of California San Francisco faculty after training. I was privileged to open the cancer center at University of California Davis, and had the wonderful experience as one of the first full-time faculty members in a new medical school department. Later, I joined a private practice group in Sacramento and have been in that position for 25 years.
How did you become involved with the ACR?
Throughout my training at Penn and while at UCSF, I was encouraged to be involved with professional organizations. I was involved with the RTOG early in my training. Throughout my career, I have maintained this interest, and was co-PI on two significant national prostate cancer trials, RTOG 9902 and RTOG 0521. I have always maintained an interest in ASTRO and ACR, as well as ASTRO and my state chapter. I have moved into roles of increasing responsibility over time through volunteer work in these organizations.
Why do you believe involvement in organizations like ACR is important?
Involvement in professional organizations is beneficial to our profession as well as to the individual physicians who make the commitment. It gives one a sense of larger community and professional development and satisfaction. My career would not be as rich and satisfying if I had not elected to pursue this involvement. ACR has been a great opportunity to work with smart, accomplished people from all over the country.
Medicine is not an industry, we are a profession. We are trying to make things better for our patients, referring physicians, and employees. Success for our specialty means that we can access the equipment, technological advancement, and research funding needed to bring better cancer treatment to our patients. This would not be possible without involvement in professional organizations such as the ACR.
Why is involvement especially important for radiation oncologists?
Radiation oncology is a small specialty, and our continued success requires that we need to be involved with ACR and ASTRO, as well as other organizations to which we are a component (ASCO, AMA, state and local medical societies, etc). We have succeeded for the last two to three decades in that as radiation oncologists, we have shown up and made ourselves invaluable to these societies, and allowed our voices to be heard.
I am very proud of the work that we’ve done with RTOG — now NRG oncology and the RTOG foundation. It’s important to recognize the ACR is the umbrella organization that the RTOG and NRG work under. The ACR has been the home for RTOG since 1970. RTOG staff members are ACR employees. Our profession would not be the same without the RTOG. Our commitment to supporting research and gathering the evidence that supports evidence-based treatment decisions is a defining characteristic of our specialty.
Additionally, we are unique in that we are a field with a professional and technical component. We share this in common with diagnostic radiology — we are very different from our internal medicine specialty colleagues, such as medical oncologists, in terms of how we are reimbursed. We need to have a strong voice in the area of reimbursement and coding. We have a much more natural alignment with radiology specialties in this regard.
Do you have any advice for those early in their careers who would like to get involved?
You have to be willing to start at the bottom and make contributions to see what opens up. Service gives perspective and opportunity.
I’m still learning about the ACR, about government regulation, about all of the parts of government and science that touch our specialty. To succeed, we need active volunteers. I would encourage involvement and volunteering as being an essential part of career development.
Think of it this way- if you figure in college, medical school, and residency training, you have made at least a 13-year investment in your future as a radiation oncologist. That is worth safeguarding.
The core job of a resident is to master the clinical material. But, it’s also important to have some awareness that clinical practice does not exist outside of broader factors. When you complete residency, you have an obligation not only to make sure you are up to date with clinical knowledge, but also to get involved in professional organizations.
It is important to recognize what these societies do, think about ways to stay involved, and contribute once done with training. My father was from the WWII generation. When they went off to the war, they did what was required of them to advance the national interest. In our specialty, it is similar. Some will choose to be more involved in ASTRO, some in ACR, some in clinical research, and some in our local medical societies. All of these are very valuable. The future of our specialty depends on the ongoing commitment of those who are completing training today.
By Meghan Macomber, MD, MS, ACR RFS radiation oncology resident chair, chief resident and radiation oncology resident at University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle