One of ASCO’s initiatives I’m most enthusiastic about is CancerLinQ. It brings real-world data on the treatment of thousands of patients through different practices across the country to our desktop for quality-of-care and data analysis.
—Julie M. Vose, MD, MBA, FASCO
At this year’s ASCO Annual Meeting, Julie M. Vose, MD, MBA, FASCO, will begin her term as the Society’s 51st President. It is fitting that the meeting will be held in Chicago, the city where the first seven visionaries met over lunch in 1964 to formulate a medical organization centered on cancer care.
From its humble inception, ASCO has grown into the world’s leading oncology organization, but size has not diminished its primary mission: to improve the lives of people with cancer. The incoming ASCO President makes that point clear: “I try to get to know each patient, the patient’s family, and [his or her] modus operandi, so I can understand what works best in dealing with each unique situation. In short: Know your patient as a person,” said Dr. Vose.
Dr. Vose was reared in Mitchell, South Dakota, quintessential small-town America, situated in a vast section of the Midwest known as Tornado Alley and The Corn Belt. She grew up in an environment of science and medicine; her father was a pathologist who helped her with her science projects, and her mother was a nurse. “During high school, I’d work summers in my father’s laboratory. That was my first introduction to medicine, looking at cancer cells under the microscope,” said Dr. Vose.
Early Career Path
After graduating from high school, Dr. Vose entered South Dakota State University. “I majored in medical technology, which is preparation to work in a medical laboratory, but toward the end of my training, I realized that I wanted to become a doctor,” she explained.
Upon receiving her undergraduate degree from South Dakota State, Dr. Vose moved slightly south to Nebraska, where she enrolled at the University of Nebraska Medical School. The young medical student had not yet been attracted to a medical specialty until she encountered a mentor.
During her junior and senior years, she began doing chart reviews with James O. Armitage, MD. She continued, “I did my fellowship and internship in internal medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, where I continued doing research and clinical trial work with Dr. Armitage, who had become a wonderful mentor. It was during this period that I became fascinated by lymphoma, hematologic malignancies, and stem cell transplantation.”
A Multifaceted Workload
Having found her passion for hematologic malignancies, Dr. Vose pursued her work at the University of Nebraska, where she currently is the Neumann M. and Mildred E. Harris Professorial Chair and Chief of the Oncology/Hematology Division in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the Associate Director of Clinical Research at the Fred and Pamela Buffet Cancer Center.
Given the scope of her responsibilities, a large part of Dr. Vose’s energy is focused on administrative needs; she is in charge of 18 faculty members and a large clinical trials infrastructure.
Asked if her hefty administrative workload allows time for her research interests, Dr. Vose replied, “Managing a group of this size takes up about 40% of my time. I’m still very active in the clinic, spending about 30% of my time caring for my patients with lymphoma and multiple myeloma. And the rest of my time is spent on clinical research. It’s a very rewarding mix.” She added, “Research is always a delicate balance with funding, so we do a mix of investigator-initiated trials, cooperative group trials, and clinical trials from pharmaceutical companies.”
Dr. Vose revealed that she choose a career in academic medicine because it offered the best of both worlds. “I get to administer cutting-edge treatments and take care of patients and also conduct research to find new ways to treat them. An added benefit is to be able to teach the next generation of cancer providers, which is incredibly rewarding,” she noted.
She lauded the University of Nebraska as one of the nation’s leading centers for treatment and transplant for patients with lymphoma and other blood cancers, stressing that as an oncologist deeply engaged in innovative research, it is a dream come true to be part of an institution with such a progressive, forward-looking philosophy. “But oncology is about caring for patients with cancer, and our institution is people-oriented, which is hugely important in that it creates a warm and supportive environment for our patients,” Dr. Vose stated.
Dr. Vose has a wide range of current research pursuits. “I’m interested in multiple research areas such as new therapies for Hodgkin lymphoma; non-Hodgkin lymphoma; multiple myeloma; and chronic lymphocytic leukemia, including stem cell transplantation, immunotherapy, pathway-directed agents, and other novel agents.”
Asked whether diminishing federal resources in our current economic environment would stall much-needed research, Dr. Vose, who also has an MBA in Health Administration from the University of Colorado Business School, responded, “As far as basic and translational research is concerned, it really is an ever-increasing problem, and ASCO needs to support the enhancement of current and future programs by working with the National Cancer Institute to use research dollars in high-priority oncology research.”
However, she was quick to point out, it’s not just about money. “As for younger college or medical students interested in oncology, we should support internships and summer programs with oncologists and cancer centers to help students learn early in their careers about the fields of cancer care and oncology research,” said Dr. Vose. Mentorship of the future generation of oncology specialists is a top priority, as the oncology workforce will be challenged over the next several years due to the aging of the population.
As her ASCO presidency approaches, Dr. Vose said she is honored and excited to face the challenges ahead, stressing that coming from a rural part of the country, where some patients have to travel hundreds of miles to see their oncologist, access to quality care throughout the country is a central issue for her.
Dr. Vose is also very interested in another important access issue: information. “One of ASCO’s initiatives I’m most enthusiastic about—and the one that has the potential for the most improvement in quality care—is CancerLinQ. It brings real-world data on the 97% of patients not currently treated in clinical trials on thousands of patients through different practices across the country to our desktop for quality-of-care and data analysis,” she explained.
As incoming President of ASCO, Dr. Vose sees one of ASCO’s biggest challenges is to assist the oncology health-care team in providing quality cancer care and in keeping up with the rapidly expanding volume of new information coming out daily—and to do so in a cost-effective environment that meets the needs of patients. “I think the way to overcome that challenge is to continue to develop and update oncology-specific guidelines and pathways that can be used as the basis for quality-care management, such as through the Quality Oncology Practice Initiative (QOPI) system. Armed with this information, we can improve the affordability of cancer care by leveraging existing efforts to reform payment and eliminate duplication and waste in oncology care,” she added.
Over the past decades, the oncology community has seen significant advances in research and knowledge, which have been translated into vastly improved clinical outcomes. It’s an exciting time of rapid change in cancer care, but the incoming ASCO President reminds us that one thing should always remain constant: “The art of oncology encompasses how to successfully put all of these aspects of oncology care together to benefit an individual patient and support the family through a stressful time,” concluded Dr. Vose. ■
Disclosure: Dr. Vose reported no potential conflicts of interest.