Women in Urologic Oncology - Anne K. Schuckman

October 17, 2022

Anne Schuckman and Alicia Morgans discuss the unique challenges and opportunities for women in urologic oncology. The two explore their own journeys in the field and provide suggestions on how young women seeking a career in urologic oncology can build their careers with confidence.


Anne K. Schuckman, MD, Director, LAC+USC Urologic Oncology, Keck Hospital of USC, USC Norris Cancer Hospital, Los Angeles, California 

Alicia Morgans, MD, MPH, Genitourinary Medical Oncologist, Medical Director of Survivorship Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts

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Alicia Morgans: Hi, I'm so excited to be at AUA 2022, where I have the opportunity of speaking with Dr. Anne Schuckman about women in urologic oncology, the unique ways that we can lift women in this profession, as well as some of the challenges that we face, even among our patients and their perceptions of urologic oncologists. It's so wonderful to talk with you today.

Anne Schuckman: Thank you so much for having me.

Alicia Morgans: Wonderful. Well, I know that you have had many roles over time where you have had the opportunity to influence the field of urologic oncology, urology in general, by not only elevating the women around you in your ranks, in urology and in medical oncology and in other spaces, but also in helping us to fill our ranks with newcomers, with young students, and medical trainees. I'd love to hear your thoughts on how you made that most effective and how you supported young women in that way.

Anne Schuckman: I had the opportunity at USC to be the medical student advisor for the Department of Urology for many years. Through that process of really making a one-on-one connection with first and second-year medical students, we encourage them to do the rotation and then do the sub-I. I think that without a female mentor, it's pretty intimidating to go into the field of urology. With the female mentor, I think, you can really see how you can fit in, what the different opportunities are, and encourage those women to think of it as something that is inclusive of women.

Alicia Morgans: I think that's so important, and not necessarily when we use our academic brains and we're thinking about getting all the scores that we need to get, to get to each level through medical training, it's so daunting, it's so hard. I'm so impressed with the young people who are still doing that. I don't know that I could do it again if I had to, but there's so much that you think about that drives you, and it's not necessarily conscious that you think, "Someone has to look like me in order for me to go into that field." But I think there is a subconscious something about it, where first, if you don't see the field, because you don't see anyone like you that you kind of latch onto, or if you just don't see someone that you aspire to potentially be like this person, it can make a real difference in how you're choosing a specialty.

Anne Schuckman: Absolutely. I mean, I was very lucky, as a medical student, to have a female mentor at USC, but she was the only female really in the department at that time. Not even just urology, even in Los Angeles, in a big urban area on the West Coast, which I think is pretty liberal. There are real paucity of senior female surgeons, not just urology, sort of across the board, and seeing how people can fit together goals such as getting married, having a family, and still have a successful career looks very different for female students than it does for male students. There's no question about that.

Alicia Morgans: Absolutely.

Anne Schuckman: The other thought I have on that is I think that many times women in general sort of suffer more from imposter syndrome than men do or than male students do. I think that even just opening up the conversation to how they feel about where they fit into this, can really open their eyes.

Alicia Morgans: Well, I think that's a great take on that and I'm sure your years being there really helped to improve people's, at least, mindset around who is a urologic oncologist? Who is a urologist? You've continued that over time and I wonder, are there organizations that listeners should be aware of, that trainees should be aware of, that really do support women in urology?

Anne Schuckman: Absolutely, and we've been really lucky with this over the years. I mean, there's always been a society of women in urology, but over the course of the last five years or so, there's so many more young women going into urologic oncology that we've actually managed to form a society of women in urologic oncology. And this year at the SUO meeting, we had this fabulous event that wasn't at like six in the morning, which was unbelievable, and the number of trainees who attended, whether they were students or fellows or international fellows, was so encouraging. As this matures, we'll have more opportunities to actually sponsor women-centered research, or just sponsor specifically women who are going into academic careers in a scientific way and not just a mentoring way.

Alicia Morgans: That's also so important because I think women sometimes realize that to reach all of these metrics, to be in the scientific community, in the academic community, there are also challenges, there are hurdles. And to your point about the imposter syndrome, one could say, "It's just too overwhelming. It's enough for me to maybe be a fantastic urologist, but I'm going to do that in private practice because I want to have a family." I think it's so important that these societies help support people as they proceed through an academic pathway, if that's what they want as well.

Anne Schuckman: Well, I think some of it is even understanding that an academic pathway may even be friendlier, actually, to having a family and to having some control over your life and your schedule. I think that, that's maybe a misperception amongst trainees in terms of what your life looks like and just seeing people do it, obviously, is what matters.

Alicia Morgans: I would agree. I think in medical oncology as well, the academic schedule actually gives you a lot more flexibility.

Anne Schuckman: Absolutely.

Alicia Morgans: I'm not in the OR ever, but I'm not in clinic as much as my colleagues who are in private practice. It is definitely more of my making in terms of the schedule.

Anne Schuckman: It's been fun, too. One of the things that's interesting is, again, even in a big city like LA, I've really connected with most of the other female urologists in Los Angeles and there's not that many. I feel like we've been very lucky to create a little referral network. Most of these women I've honestly never met in person, but we talk on the phone all the time and have formed these relationships. I've started asking them if my residents can go out and shadow in their private practices, just so they can kind of see what that even looks like, because they don't get any exposure to private practice during training.

Alicia Morgans: That's fantastic, too. All of these wonderful things that we're doing and that you're doing to really elevate women in the field and show them that this is a possible opportunity, a really phenomenal opportunity for them, it's great. But one thing that I think is still interesting is that our patients are going through this journey with us and patients don't always perceive women as their urologic oncologist, as their surgeon, because of the history of urology or urologic oncology. I wonder if you have any comments about that?

Anne Schuckman: It's funny. When I talk to a new patient about bladder cancer, I'll spend easily an hour to an hour and a half going through the nuts and bolts of the diagnosis and the surgery and exactly how it's going to happen in the recovery. And almost every time, at the end of about an hour long conversation, they say, "Well, who's going to do the surgery?" And I asked my male colleagues if they've ever had this experience to a person, they said, "No, that's absolutely never happened to me." And then they're very excited about it, which is funny, they say, "We're so happy you're doing it. We're so glad that you spent all this time with us," but it's just this sort of idea that, "Well, that's not what a surgeon looks like."

Alicia Morgans: Now, well you are very clearly what a surgeon looks like and I really appreciate your time. Do you have any closing thoughts for those who are listening and who are thinking about this as a field or, in general, women who are watching?

Anne Schuckman: I would say just spend some time and take the risk of spending time in clinic or spending time with a female urologist and learn about the field. Certainly, it's a long journey, but at the end of the road, it's a fantastic field for women to be in. It's a great ability to control your life and you'll have a fantastic career ahead of you.

Alicia Morgans: I think it's more than just a career; it's a passion. It's a life's work, and I so appreciate that you are sharing that life's work with us and helping to elevate those women around you who want to do the same. Thank you.

Anne Schuckman: Thank you so much.