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Q&A with ASTRO President Dr. Colleen Lawton

by Loren Bonner , DOTmed News Online Editor
From the September 2013 issue of DOTmed HealthCare Business News magazine

ASTRO’s 55th annual meeting takes place September 22-25 in Atlanta. As always, the meeting will attract oncologists from all disciplines with attendance expected to reach roughly 11,000.

“I want the meeting to be very patient focused and practical,” Dr. Colleen Lawton, president of ASTRO’s board of directors tells DOTmed News.

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Indeed, the theme for the 2013 meeting is: “Patients: Hope – Guide – Heal.” It will focus on patient-centered care and the importance of the physician’s role in improving patient- reported outcomes and the quality and safety of patient care, according to ASTRO.

DOTmed News spoke with Dr. Lawton about her role as ASTRO’s president, how the oncology field is being challenged and what we can expect at the show.

DMBN: What attracted you to a career in radiation oncology?
CL: I grew up in relatively small town in Wisconsin outside of Milwaukee. Our local family doctor was an amazing individual whom everybody looked up to. I thought: I’m kind of good at math and science and maybe that’s the role for me. When I went into medical school I had every intention of going into family practice. I liked treating all ages, guys and gals. Yet when I actually did the rotation for primary care, I didn’t like that you weren’t “fixing” patients. You are more or less placating diabetes and heart disease. However, just by happenstance, I had the opportunity to be with a cervical cancer patient and went downstairs with her to her radiation treatment. My eyes opened instantly and I fell in love with the field. The rest is history.

The nice part about radiation oncology is that we also treat all ages and both sexes and I love the protracted nature. We follow patients for years so I have patients out for 15 years who know my family and I know theirs. It’s also incredibly gratifying to cure something as serious as cancer.

DMBN: In addition to serving as current president of ASTRO, you’re also a professor of radiation oncology at the Medical College of Wisconsin. How does your work there play a direct role in what you bring to ASTRO?
CL: I’m also vice chair of our department, which is very much a leadership role. So the concept of doing things in a leadership capacity is not foreign to me. Another aspect is that I treat patients like all radiation oncologists do across the country. So all the bumps and kinks in the system and in the way we would like to take care of patients versus sometimes how we are allowed to take care of them, all of those things exist in my life. I think I have a good way of representing all of our constituents in radiation oncology at the leadership level.
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