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Seven Questions for a Surgical Oncologist

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Seven Questions for a Surgical Oncologist

Aug 24, 2023

On this episode of Seven Questions for a Specialist, we speak with Erin Ward, MD, who specializes in surgical oncology at University of Utah Health. What does a surgical oncologist do? Why did she choose the work she's gone into? What's the one thing someone can do each day that really keeps the doctor away?

Episode Transcript

#1: What Do You Do? What is a Surgical Oncologist?

Dr. Ward: A surgical oncologist is a surgeon who specializes in treating patients with cancer. I treat patients who need cytoreductive surgery and HIPEC. So that can range from a bunch of different cancers, but particularly appendix and colorectal and gastric as well as patients with small bowel neuroendocrine tumors.

#2: Why Did You Pursue Medicine and this Specialty in Particular?

Dr. Ward: So I pursued medicine mostly because that kind of fit who I was. I like helping. I like being the person who has the knowledge to provide that help. And I think surgery spoke to me because it gave me an opportunity to do something concrete for those patients. The patients who have cancer and need surgery really need someone who cares, and I felt like I could make the biggest impact by taking care of those patients.

#3: What's the Most Challenging Thing About What You Do?

Dr. Ward: I think the most challenging thing is not being able to help, you know, having to say, "I have this skill set and unfortunately I can't help you."

#4: What's the Most Common Question You Get Asked When Somebody Finds Out What You Do?

Dr. Ward: When I was just a general surgeon, I think I got a lot of questions like, "Oh, you must be good with a knife," which is bizarre because we rarely use knives, right? We mostly use the cautery. So you would be like, "Well, I mean, I guess, but I don't really use it, but."

#5: What Do You Know About Cancer that Everybody Should Know?

Dr. Ward: Cancer is a disease that really affects the individual on so many different aspects. It impacts the way that they see themselves. It impacts how they see themselves and their family. And it can be more than just a physical experience. And I think that's what patients need to know and know that it's normal.

Interviewer: All right. It's time to update the cliché, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away."

#6: What Each Day Actually Keeps the Doctor Away?

Dr. Ward: I think a good, long walk.

Interviewer: Some physical activity.

Dr. Ward: Yeah. I think physical activity and having good social support.

#7: What Music Do You Listen to When You're in Surgery?

Dr. Ward: I usually tell the nurses the only thing I don't listen to is screaming, country, or rap.

Interviewer: Okay. So they get to choose, and you're just along for the ride?

Dr. Ward: Yeah.

Interviewer: But it's never been something you need or that helps you focus.

Dr. Ward: Mm-mm, no.

Interviewer: It's about keeping everybody else who's helping you in the room happy.

Dr. Ward: If everyone else in the room is happy, I'm happy.

Interviewer: I love that. As a surgeon and a person, when things get stressful, how do you manage that?

Dr. Ward: I think for me I usually try to stop talking and start listening. I think usually when I'm able to listen better, I can pick up on why things are stressful. So I think deep breathing, and paying attention to the cues outside of me usually helps.

Interviewer: Favorite TV or movie surgeon or doctor?

Dr. Ward: I guess I would say that my favorite TV doctors are "Scrubs."

Interviewer: Okay.

Dr. Ward: "Scrubs"?

Interviewer: Yeah.

Dr. Ward: Yeah.

Interviewer: The comedy.

Dr. Ward: Yeah. I think they do a good job of kind of capturing the ridiculousness of our job sometimes.

Interviewer: Oh, okay. As opposed to it all being serious all the time like . . .

Dr. Ward: Yeah. No, I think they do a good job of like . . . Yeah, I mean, there's like those moments where she like can't get the scrubs out of the machine or she ends up cutting her shirt. I mean, like training is like a ridiculous experience sometimes, you know, and I think they do a good job of capturing some of the ridiculousness of our day-to-day experience.