Overcoming Doubts and Striving for Excellence: Guiding Words for Women in Prostate Cancer Research - Elisabeth Heath

March 7, 2023

In a thoughtful conversation between Andrea Miyahira and Elisabeth Heath, they discuss the challenges and opportunities for young women in prostate cancer research and oncology. Dr. Heath emphasizes the importance of self-confidence, sharing her daughter's experience with dwindling female representation in her calculus class. She highlights the need to persevere, regardless of self-doubt or perceived readiness, and advocates for seeking opportunities even when not feeling fully qualified. Dr. Heath's message is one of empowerment, collaboration, and making every day count, emphasizing that women don't need to know it all and should not be afraid to reach out to others for help or to share ideas. She concludes with encouragement to take risks and reassurance that support is available. Dr. Heath's inspiring insights are complemented by Andrea's invitation to join the PCF Women in Science Network initiative. 


Elisabeth Heath, MD, FACP, Medical Oncologist, Associate Director of Translational Sciences, Leader of the Genitourinary Oncology Multidisciplinary Team, Karmanos Cancer Institute, Detroit, MI

Andrea K. Miyahira, PhD, Director of Global Research & Scientific Communications, The Prostate Cancer Foundation

Read the Full Video Transcript

Andrea Miyahira: Hi everyone, I'm Andrea Miyahira and I'm the Senior Director of Global Research and Scientific Communications at the Prostate Cancer Foundation. Today I have the great honor of being joined by Dr. Elisabeth Heath. Thank you for joining us, Dr. Heath.

Elisabeth Heath: 
Thank you for having me. Such a pleasure to be here.

Andrea Miyahira: 
March is women's history month so we are celebrating women in prostate cancer easearch and oncology. What are your top pieces of advice for young women in prostate cancer research and oncology?

Elisabeth Heath: I think the big one is just that you can do it. There are still moments where I think, "Oh gosh, is this real? Did we actually accomplish something? Did that program really begin?" And the reality is that doubt starts almost in high school, right there at math class. Again, my daughter actually, my youngest mentioned to me when she was a senior, she said, "I look around in my calculus class and there are five girls in this class. We started off with more than half girls in ninth grade." And this awareness of just, where did everybody go? And many were her friends and they were just like, "Well, we don't want to ruin our grade. I don't think I can compete." And that little seed right there carries on because then you're just not sure. Am I strong enough? Am I smart enough?

The reality is there's always going to be, thank goodness, somebody smarter than you, somebody more skilled. And I always say, "thank goodness," because I hope I'm standing right next to that person so I can benefit. Sometimes you are the smartest one in the room and sometimes you're not the smartest one in the room. And the good news is we all just need to stick together. I think for the younger women out there that are considering sort of this long journey, don't think about it like that. I always think about it like, wow, every day for me is a gift. Nothing is guaranteed. I think doing oncology for so many decades, you really appreciate that. No one's guaranteed waking up in the morning and just being here. So every day I look at that as a starting point, going, "Thumbs up. I'm here today. What can happen?"

And you try to make it count, and making it count as a woman physician, researcher in prostate cancer is done in so many ways. I'm so honored. I just came back from ZERO Prostate Cancer Summit today, and I'm so honored in just seeing the level of engagement in the whole community. Whether you're the advocate, you're the policy person, you're the scientist, you're the one running trials, however it is that you contribute, it's making somebody's life better. And I think women tend to say, "I don't have all of that ready to go." One thing I've learned in one of the leadership courses I took was when women look at a job, it's like, "Oh, well, I'm nine out of 10 on this, so maybe when I get 10 out of 10, I'm going to apply." And I think men go, "Eh, it's three to four. I'm good. I'm just going to go for it and learn."

And I think there's something to be said about that positive attitude. Well, it's not that it's zero, and I think you don't need to know it all. It's helpful, but there's people along the way to help you. So if you have a great idea, share it. It might be a terrible idea now, it might be a great idea later. If you're not sure, just email us. And if there's folks that you know are out there that might be doing something that you're interested in, email. And you could just say, "Hey, I'm a fellow researcher or fellow potential researcher, and I'm interested in learning this and this." The worst that'll happen is you're ignored. And then you try someone else. This is what we tell our high schoolers. You have nothing to lose when you send an email asking for something. Nothing at all. The worst would be no response. And then that person really either doesn't have time or is not the right fit, and you move on and it's okay.

Andrea Miyahira: That's all such good advice. Well, thank you so much Dr. Heath. It was so inspiring and it's so wonderful to have you in our PCF community and have you as part of our PCF Women in Science Initiative. I just want to say one more time, but if anyone is interested in joining our PCF Women in Science Network initiative, please email . Thank you, Dr. Heath.

Elisabeth Heath: Thank you so much for having me.