May 11 2022
Written by Christina Henson, MD, University of Oklahoma Stephenson Cancer Center
Spending the first few years of my career as the only person in my department doing head and neck radiation oncology after the passing of Dr. Bogardus was intimidating. Sitting in dark conference rooms at ASTRO meetings, I would look around and think, “Hmm, who can be ‘my people’?” I worked to repeatedly calm my inner introvert as I attended as many “head and neck”, “new investigator”, and “meet-and-greet” sessions as I could. I listened to Dr. Quynh Le speak about juggling parenting and work at one of these sessions, and she became a personal superhero. On another memorable occasion, I introduced myself to Dr. Sue Yom after she spoke at a head and neck session, and she gave me a big smile, and her card, and then remembered me and gave me a hug the next time I saw her. The impact of these small gestures cannot be overstated.
I think that community is what a lot of young investigators are looking for when they join NRG. Most all of us work in the roles that we do because we want terribly to make a difference in the lives of our patients. Sometimes, as an aspiring trialist, it can be difficult to figure out where to start. I remember, so clearly, sitting in on my first in-person NRG Head and Neck Core Committee meeting as a visitor in early 2020 – watching the people in the literal seats at the table discuss and decide upon the future trials for our patients. It felt so out of reach. So, when I was invited to serve as a study champion within NRG for an ECOG-ACRIN trial, it was the perfect steppingstone. It has served as an opportunity to meet the study PI, make it onto meeting agendas with a speaking role, and meet other early career faculty who serve as study champions. Through attending these meetings, I have also gotten to meet several more senior members whom I now consider mentors and sponsors. And, very excitingly, I am now collaborating on a new proposal with the PI whose study I champion.
I see and deeply appreciate the efforts that NRG is making to engage with early career investigators through initiatives such as Study Champions and the Young Investigators Group, as well as through the individual efforts of disease site chairs and committee members, of which the Head and Neck and Cervix groups in particular have been truly outstanding. I am taking notes and look forward to providing the same support to future NRG members.