Ann H. Partridge, MD, MPH
Breast cancer specialist Ann H. Partridge, MD, MPH, was born in Manhasset, Long Island, and grew up several miles east in Muttontown, New York. Since tiny Muttontown didn’t have its own school system, Dr. Partridge went to high school in nearby Locust Valley, a town on Long Island’s North Shore, which was featured in Nelson DeMille’s novel The Gold Coast.
“My father was a surgical resident when I was born, and he was very influential in my decision to pursue a career in medicine. My sister is also a surgeon, and there are a lot of other doctors and nurses in my family, so I grew up in a medical environment,” said Dr. Partridge.
After Toying With Other Careers, Medicine Won
AFTER GRADUATING FROM Locust Valley High School, Dr. Partridge entered Georgetown University in 1991. “Although I’d already made up my mind to become a doctor, for some reason when I got to college, I decided to explore other options. I got into medical school early, in my sophomore year. It was a program designed to let students do other things besides medicine, plus you didn’t have to take the MCATs. I became a French minor and spent time in France. I also took a lot of history and religious classes. I delved into a whole bunch of interesting liberal arts classes, trying not to become a doctor, but in the end medicine won,” she admitted.
After receiving her BS from Georgetown, Dr. Partridge applied to Cornell University Medical School because she wanted to be based in New York near her family. She was accepted and entered medical school in 1995.
“When I was in medical school, I found the most interesting science to me was in hematology/oncology. I knew I wanted to become a clinician, and in oncology, you were not only dealing with a very serious disease, but you also had the opportunity to build long-term relationships with your patients. Oncology would give me the opportunity to help make a difference in someone’s life who was facing a life-threatening illness. So based on those aspects of medical care, I chose oncology as my career path,” said Dr. Partridge.
She continued: “I actually thought about becoming a surgeon for a while because the immediacy of the outcome was appealing. However, the long-term patient care involved in oncology won out in the end. I did my internship at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia; there I observed the full spectrum of disease in cancer and realized how much work needed to be done and really wanted to be a part of that exciting future.”
Bitten by the Research Bug
AFTER SPENDING A FEW hematology laboratory experiences during medical school, Dr. Partridge realized she much more preferred the patient interaction in clinical research. “In my residency, I did some clinical research with Dr. Edward Stadtmauer in bone marrow transplant in myeloma and helped him create a patient database. That’s when I got bitten by the clinical research bug.”
In 1998, Dr. Partridge began her clinical fellowship at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “I did my fellowship at Dana-Farber in part because of the institute’s reputation in research and also because while I was doing my residency in Philadelphia, I met the man who would become my future husband. He happened to be from Massachusetts and wanted to return. So Dana-Farber worked for two reasons,” said Dr. Partridge.
Mentor Helps Shape a Career
BETWEEN HER FIRST AND SECOND YEARS of fellowship at Dana-Farber, Dr. Partridge entered a summer program at the Harvard School of Public Health called the Program in Clinical Effectiveness. This program is an intensive one that provides clinical investigators with fundamental training in clinical epidemiology and biostatistics.
“Not only did I learn valuable clinical research skills during the program, but it also helped me explore specialty areas of oncology that might interest me. After a lot of exploring, I met Dr. Eric Winer, who is a wonderful person and a great doctor and clinical researcher. He’s also very open-minded, and he allowed me to pursue the things I was interested in, so that was what lead me to become a clinician-researcher in breast cancer,” said Dr. Partridge.
Interest in Women’s Health
“ANOTHER REASON I DECIDED TO WORK with Eric in breast cancer was that I’d always been interested in women’s health issues. During our early time working together, I focused on a couple of areas, largely due to my experience in the clinic during my fellowship, seeing young women with breast cancer. Not only did they share anxiety over survival with other women, but also being young, they were deeply concerned about fertility issues associated with breast cancer. So I spent a lot of time doing research focusing on that issue,” revealed Dr. Partridge.
She continued: “Early on, I also looked at the issue of patient compliance with their treatment. The use of oral oncology drugs was increasing, especially in adjuvant hormonal therapy and endocrine therapy; however, no one had really looked at compliance rates in the cancer population. For instance, in the general public, when people develop a chronic situation, data show that many patients do not take their medications. In the case of hypertension, the rate of noncompliance is 50%, which is pretty alarming given the possible consequence of stroke or cardiac disease. Several years ago, our group found that women with early breast cancer are slightly more likely to adhere to their adjuvant therapy than they would for other chronic conditions, but also less adherent than we would have expected. So we continued our work to identify who is not adherent and what can we do about it. And, it turns out, the youngest women appear to be the most nonadherent. So these two areas of research, issues facing young women with breast cancer and nonadherence, are now coming together as we look for ways to improve outcomes.”
IN 2005, DR. PARTRIDGE cofounded and became Director of Dana-Farber’s Young and Strong Program for Young Women With Breast Cancer (diagnosed at age 44 or younger), which is the first and only one of its kind in New England. From 2008 to 2012, she was Clinical Director of the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers Breast Oncology Program, and in 2012, Dr. Partridge was named Director of the Adult Survivorship Program.
“Throughout my career heading these various programs, I have always focused on the long-term late effects of chronic therapies and patients’ quality of life. These issues are implicit in early care, but also in survivorship. In short, my career has focused on trying to improve outcomes, both medical and the psychosocial needs of patients with cancer,” said Dr. Partridge.
Asked for a snapshot of the future on oncology, Dr. Partridge responded, “I think we’re in a pretty amazing place right now, particularly with regard to breast cancer. We are seeing increasing rates of survival and marked improvements in overall care of the whole patient. Progress on all fronts is moving forward, which leaves me very optimistic about the future for our patients.”
Despite the challenges of her incredibly busy career, Dr. Partridge finds time for a rigorous exercise regimen. “And I also spend a lot of time with my three daughters,” she added. ■
DISCLOSURE: Dr. Partridge reported no conflicts of interest.