Bringing Women in Science Together, How Mentoring and Community Support Women in Medicine and Research - Tanya Dorff

February 28, 2023

Tanya Dorff joins Alicia Morgans to share her journey as a female genitourinary medical oncologist, and the two share ways that organizations can support women as they grow and advance their careers in science. They discuss how organizations such as the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF), the Coffey-Holden Prostate Cancer Academy, and initiatives such as the Women in Science PCF scientific retreat play a role in bringing women in science and people in medicine together to meet each other, exchange ideas, and be a part of a community of people who are really dedicated to advancing women in science.


Tanya B. Dorff, MD., is an associate clinical professor in the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research and serves as head of the genitourinary cancers program at City of Hope. She is an internationally recognized leader in prostate cancer and is renowned for her work in other genitourinary tumor types, including kidney, bladder, and penile cancer. City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center, Duarte, CA

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

Read the Full Video Transcript

Alicia Morgans: Hi, my name is Alicia Morgans and I'm a GU Medical Oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. I'm so excited to have here with me today, Dr. Tanya Dorff, who's an Associate Professor of Medicine and the GU Section Chief at the City of Hope. Thank you so much for being here with me today, Tanya.

Tanya Dorff: Thanks for the invitation.

Alicia Morgans: Great. So I wanted to talk with you a little bit about women in medicine and women in prostate cancer specifically and would love to hear you summarize your story before we get into thinking about ways that organizations can support women as they move through the ranks in science.

Tanya Dorff: So, I'm sure everyone's journey is different. I started out not really laser-focused. I didn't know I wanted to be a genitourinary medical oncologist, so all along the way, it has really been people who mentored me and even more so, people who believed in me, who saw some potential in me and told me, "This is something you could do," because, without that, certain things didn't even feel like they were on my radar. So, even in internal medicine residency, it was someone saying that this is something that you can be taught.  Because it can feel a little overwhelming when you look at physicians who are not just treating patients, but also doing research and publishing. It can feel like it might take a really special skill set and it does, but it's one that can be developed with appropriate mentorship.  And then in fellowship, really the whole reason I went into prostate cancer is because of the physicians I worked with who were doing prostate cancer, who took me under their wing, had me work in their lab, had me write grants and papers to the point where I felt this was something I could develop expertise in.

Obviously, it's important for us now that we are on this side of it to be paying it forward and I've really enjoyed being at USC, I mentored medical students, many of them women, but I think it should be a little bit gender blind. I mentor students who are interested and who I work productively with regardless, but medical students, even undergrads, residents, fellows, and now, of course, junior faculty and some postdocs in the Kittles Lab, and it's just really rewarding because you can see potential and you want to help people maximize their impact, so they have ideas, but just by refining those a little bit and by providing opportunities through mentorship, you can really watch someone grow. It's just the greatest feeling.

Alicia Morgans: I would completely agree with that. And you clearly take a lot of pride and joy in mentoring these junior people, and I know that you have had such accomplishments over time, that your story in itself is quite inspiring. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about some of the things that were most meaningful to you in terms of grants that you were awarded or opportunities that really helped to define who you are today.

Tanya Dorff: Prostate Cancer Foundation has certainly played a huge role by bringing together people with similar interests, and also I think one of their big innovations is bringing in people who are doing research in other areas where we would like to utilize some of their ideas and expertise. It could be breast cancer, colon cancer, a researcher, who is studying something that we think could be relevant. Prostate Cancer Foundation has been genius in bringing people together so that we can all meet each other, exchange ideas, and that is often where I got a lot of the ideas for my research, was at the scientific retreat meetings or the Coffey-Holden Academy, and just through the people I met. And now, PCF has done this wonderful step further for women with the women's networking event that occurs in conjunction with the scientific retreat, and it just feels really like a nice safe place for women who might have particular struggles or needs or experiences to get even more mentorship from a broader community and from a group of people who are really dedicated to advancing women in science.

Alicia Morgans: Wonderful, and if you had to give advice to people who are watching, who are thinking about either following along a path similar to yours or supporting women who are in science, or who are thinking about going into science to achieve as you have, what would your advice be to how to best make that happen?

Tanya Dorff: Yeah, that's a tough question. I think there are so many different approaches. I do think that as a mentee, one needs to be very proactive and make sure mentorship is happening in a way that's productive and to seek out additional mentorship because there might be some projects you're working on with one mentor, but that doesn't mean there isn't advice or guidance or opportunities that could be obtained by connecting with additional mentors. I would stay broad-minded and I would stay really proactive in order to make sure opportunities are achieved. Even now, later in my career, new opportunities arise, like my work with Rick Kittles in our Office of Equity and Diversity and studying how our prostate cancer treatments might work differently in a diverse population and really trying to meet the needs of an underserved or understudied prostate cancer population. There are always new opportunities to grow.

Alicia Morgans: Wonderful. Well, I sincerely appreciate you for sharing your story and for giving us something to think about as we all seek to support those around us, and certainly, we appreciate hearing about how the Prostate Cancer Foundation has helped you. Thank you.