By Corrie Pellegrino - February 01, 2023
SPECIAL SERIES: WOMEN IN ONCOLOGY
Women faculty at Moffitt Cancer Center come from different backgrounds and cultures around the globe. Their areas of research and clinical care span the entire cancer continuum, including clinical science and trials, basic science, epidemiology, health outcomes, medical physics and more. Community involvement, mentorship and inclusion among faculty are foundational, and we celebrate the essential roles women play in making a difference at the cancer center and in society.
Meet Jobelle Baldonado, MD
Jobelle Baldonado, MD, is a thoracic surgeon with clinical interests in minimally invasive lung cancer and esophageal cancer surgery, including lobectomy, segmentectomy, esophagectomy and the management of chest wall tumors. Her research interests focus on thoracic surgical outcomes. Baldonado received her medical degree from the University of the Philippines College of Medicine. She remained at the University of the Philippines to complete an integrated residency in thoracic and cardiovascular surgery. She then completed a Minimally Invasive Thoracic Surgical Oncology Fellowship at Moffitt Cancer Center, followed by a Cardiovascular Surgery Fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
What made you want to go into medicine as a career?
There is no other physician in the family, and every time we went to one, I was always fascinated with the physician’s job as a child. I enjoy fixing things and/or making them better if I can. This was reinforced even more when I lost my mother at 12 years old. She always brought us to the doctors, but I never saw her go to one herself. She suffered an early cardiac death. I think that is one of the reasons I chose medicine and cardiothoracic surgery in particular.
What are your clinical and research interests?
My research focus is on thoracic surgical outcomes. There is a lot of anxiety and fear regarding chest surgery, and rightfully so. I see that every time I speak with a patient in clinic and discuss the risks of surgery. My focus with research is to keep working on improving these outcomes by looking at risk factors and making the surgery a better experience for our future patients.
What are you working on right now that you are most excited about?
I am interested in achieving good surgical lung or esophageal resections using the robotic technology. Currently, I am working on our technique for a total robotic approach to esophagectomy for esophageal cancers. I have only performed a few, but I find it challenging as I discover many different ways to do the same procedure and find out which works best for a patient. It is a work in progress.
What is one of the biggest challenges in your field?
One of the biggest challenges in the field of thoracic oncology is early detection. When I was in the Philippines, a majority of the patients I saw had locally advanced or metastatic lung cancers. I was only able to resect a few. There was no concept of lung cancer screening. Here in the U.S., I am glad that we have that, but it is unfortunately underutilized. The challenge to us providers lies in getting the word out there in the communities, that if they have risk factors, they need to get screened.
What do you see as the future of cancer screening and prevention efforts?
The future of cancer screening and prevention lies in a concerted effort at education, not just directed to the population but to providers who see the patients in the communities. It has to be a long-term campaign and not simply something that pops up intermittently on an awareness month.
What comes to mind when you hear the term “Superwoman Syndrome”?
What comes to mind is doing everything, all at once, for everyone, at the highest possible level. It is the constant pressure to meet expectations one sets for herself, to be great at the things you need to do or the person you need to be for the people around you — be it a clinician, a researcher, a child, a mother, a sister, a friend — whatever you need to be for someone.
Have you ever experienced the pressures of Superwoman Syndrome, and how have you overcome those pressures?
Absolutely. It remains a daily battle to not be a superwoman in the field of medicine. There is this nagging feeling that you need to be productive each day of each week. There is this feeling of guilt when I find myself watching a movie, reading a book or taking time away. During my first year as faculty, I did not use up all my time off until the very last week, when I realized there was still a lot of time left. It requires constant reminding of oneself to take a break and enjoy life, too. It requires being able to say “no” at times.
Who is the person who encouraged you the most in your career and how did they impact you?
It would definitely be my mother. She was widowed in 1986 and had to raise four young children all by herself. She was an English teacher to high school students in our small town in the Philippines. She prepared meals for her children early in the morning, got us all ready for school, taught other kids from 8 to 5, then came home to care for her own children once more at night. I do not know how, but she always had a way to make ends meet. She managed to send all of us to school with the meager salary that a teacher makes back home. She managed to do her chores at home and always made us feel loved and protected. She unfortunately passed away when I was 12, and although she did not have a lot of chances to encourage me with words, her whole life was more than enough encouragement and motivation for me. She lived an extremely difficult life but she kept persevering. She’s been gone a while now and she was not even a physician, but I feel she holds the biggest influence in my career and in the decisions I have made in my life.
Have you ever had a mentor or been a mentor?
Yes. When I was training as a resident, there were times when I would question my career choice, especially when it got tough. I almost left and went into another surgical sub-specialization on my second year of residency. At that time, I remember going to lunch with my mentor, and he listened. He gave me clarity and guided me. He was around for the lows and the highs. I am fortunate to have him still. We always meet whenever I am in Manila to catch up and talk about our professional and life experiences. I think it is extremely important to have a mentor and to be a mentor to someone. I hope to do the same as my mentor did for me.