Alumni Profile: Dr. Amanda Caissie
What years were you part of UTDRO and in what program(s)?
I was in the Radiation Oncology residency from 2007 to 2012.
What inspired you to pursue your career path?
I did my Ph.D. before med school. It was oncology-focused -- I knew I wanted to be an oncologist before med school. When I said that in my interview for med school, they laughed at me! They said I would change focus. I thought about medical oncology originally, but I was swayed into radiation oncology. I won the Ivan Smith Award as a med student at Queens, and ended up with a summer studentship at Sunnybrook. If you ask radiation oncologists across the country how they got into their careers, many would say it was because of the Ivan Smith Award.
Where are you now? What is your area of focus?
I’m the Research Chair for Radiation Oncology at Dalhousie. I am in Saint John, New Brunswick at Saint John Regional Hospital, which is actually an affiliate under Dalhousie University. It’s a really unique setting, because there are four centres across three provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and P.E.I.). I’ve gone to more of a community-type centre, but in an academic program. It’s the best of both worlds. Clinically, my main focus is Head and Neck, Lung, and Breast. If you look at that from the point of view of an academic program, that seems like a lot. But it’s very specialized in terms of community.
Are you conducting any new research projects? If so, can you provide a brief summary of the project?
I am! A lot of what I do is based on national committee involvement. Since leaving UTDRO, I’ve been able to maintain involvement in national committees. I’m involved with CARO and CPQR.
I’m on the CPQR steering committee, looking at quality improvement initiatives across the country. It has fostered so many opportunities for me. My research has a strong focus in quality improvement, and all my committee work has spun off into my patient advocacy work. It led to me completing a new committee through CARO. Moving to the Atlantic provinces, I had the opportunity to be a CARO board member. My board goal was to have a committee in CARO that was around quality and standards. Now I’m the Chair of the CARO Quality and Standards Committee.
What’s interesting, if you think of how U of T supported me, the residency program knew I’d be going back to New Brunswick. I had training in leadership and I got to attend quality improvement workshops. That was where I got hooked on quality improvement. That all stemmed from the training I had at UTDRO. I honestly remember back to a quality improvement workshop at PMH. Mike Milosevic was giving the talk and he’s head of CPQR.
What have been the greatest challenges or hurdles you have faced?
The culture of research in a large centre is embedded, whereas in small centres you have to forge your way to foster that culture. Since I’ve arrived, at Dalhousie we have a program called Research in Medicine, where every med student has to have a research project. In a small city in a small province, because of the university affiliation, you can foster a culture of research and academia. The med school has definitely contributed to that. I am currently Chair of Research in Medicine for both campuses.
How did your time at UTDRO shape your life and career?
It’s not just the radiation oncology lectures. They really did promote the concept that we were going out to make a difference in own community. They supported us in returning to our communities with leadership courses and so on. The research time was also really important. The mentors that I had there that I still have now. Shun Wong and Greg Czarnota definitely supported me with research when I went through my residency.
Do you have any memorable moments during your time at UTDRO?
UTDRO has such a multi-disciplinary focus—I did classes with physicists and therapists. To me, it’s always been a natural collaboration, because they train you that way. The whole concept of peer review is ingrained at UTDRO. Really influential radiation oncologists who are world-famous are standing at the front of the room, willing to have trainees look at their plans with critical eyes.
What would you tell yourself if you were just starting your training now?
If you do what you love to do, if you take on things that have meaning to you, it will all come together in the end. If you take on too much, you can’t give 100%. Learn to say no, but learn to say yes to the right things. The mentors that you have maybe don’t realize the influence that they had on trainees. Looking back, you realize that you now have that kind of influence too. It makes you appreciate the mentors you had. Seek out mentors. There are people to help you along the way.