By Steve Blanchard - November 05, 2021
There are plenty of figures in history who influence people today, but only one in particular is noteworthy in the world of radiation oncology. Marie Curie, the naturalized French physicist and chemist, became the first person and the only woman to win the Nobel Prize twice and the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two scientific fields.
That’s why radiation oncologists – and women in STEM fields everywhere – celebrate the Polish-born scientist’s birthday on Nov. 7 with #WomenWhoCurie posts on social media platforms.
"We learn more, and better, from folks who are different from us. That builds increased tolerance and a broader perspective."- Dr. Peter Johnstone
“In the modern era, where we are breaking down boundaries of discrimination and lack of opportunity, it is still common to see the responsibilities of childcare and family preferentially the responsibility of women,” said Dr. Peter Johnstone, interim chair of Radiation Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center. “This is a huge loss to any discipline, but especially to STEM fields, where girls may get disillusioned or marginalized in childhood for an interest in medicine, science or engineering.”
More than half of Moffitt’s Radiation Oncology team is made up of women. This includes four female physicians, two female physicists, 14 female advanced practice professionals, 36 female nurses, 10 female certified medical assistants, seven female dosimetrists, five female management assistants, eight female schedulers and more than five dozen female therapists.
For Dr. Jasmine Graham, a medical physicist within the department, being a woman and a minority has helped her better adapt to challenging situations in the field over time. While Graham agrees the medical community is becoming more diverse, there are still strides to be made, and being an influence for young women and girls is forefront in her mind.
“I believe it’s very important for young girls to see representation in STEM fields like radiation oncology and cancer care to give them a broader vision of what they can achieve,” Graham said. “Growing up, my role models were my mother and women from my church family who were successful in their careers. In college, my role models were women such as physician and astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison and renowned NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson.”
For Moffitt medical physicist Dr. Jacqueline Andreozzi, the "eureka" moments of her job is what drives her and motivates her. That motivation to be the first human in history to discover, to understand or to build something is what keeps her learning and forces her to keep trying to add structure to chaos. She hopes young people see that attraction as well.
"Young people everywhere need to be exposed to a diverse data set to categorize into their internal 'boxes,' so that the important qualities that allow individuals in a particular profession to succeed become more dominant than gender identity, race, creed, etc.," she said. "There is plenty of research that shows that a more diverse team is better at solving problems, since each individual will pull from their experiences to connect the dots. If everyone in the room has the same knowledge, the same skills and the same perspectives, that team will be substantially limited in the scope of possible solutions."
Marking Marie Curie’s birthday with a social media campaign is just one way to celebrate the women who make up the field of radiation oncology around the world. Johnstone is hopeful that the visibility the social media campaign brings to women in the field will encourage more young women and girls to pursue a career in radiation oncology and medicine.
And Johnstone agrees that the more diverse that pool of young talent is, the better.
“We learn more, and better, from folks who are different from us,” Johnstone said. “That builds increased tolerance and a broader perspective. For instance, the Radiation Oncology leadership team has one Christian, one Muslim and one Jewish person, and I would argue that the department team has a high morale and is doing well. When you are delivering around 1,000 doses of radiation a day to almost 300 patients, we need to respect each other and work together.”