Hometown: New York
Name of Undergraduate Institution: Binghamton University
Major(s)/Minor(s) in College: B.S. Biochemistry; Minor in African American Studies
Name of Medical School(s): Duke University Medical School/Duke University Graduate School
Residency Program: Harvard Radiation Oncology Program
Favorite Quote: “For I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jer 29:11
Contact Info & Additional Links:
Facebook: Dr. Karen Winkfield
Where are you currently at in your career path and why did you decide to pursue this career path?
I am an Associate Professor of Radiation Oncology at Wake Forest Baptist Health and the Associate Director for Health Equity at the Wake Forest Baptist Comprehensive Cancer Center. I first learned about radiation oncology during my graduate work; my dissertation research was focused identification of factors that create radio-resistance in breast cancers. Intrigued, I began researching the use of radiation as a tool in the management of cancer. Until then, I had no prior exposure to radiation oncology as a medical specialty. My intention had always been to cure cancer, but as a basic science researcher. I fell in love with clinical medicine and caring for vulnerable patients. I decided then to pursue a career in radiation oncology and I absolutely love what I do. Since I had always been interested in vulnerable populations, my research focus shifted from basic science to population health as I saw the inequities in our healthcare system. Why did some people have access to amazing clinical care, when others who lived right next to the hospital were either denied entrance or perceived limited access? This was the beginning of my goal to build programs to improve education and access to cancer care, from prevention through survivorship, for the most vulnerable in our society.
If you could go back and have a chat with your 1st year postgraduate self, what would you tell her?
Don’t worry about what other folks around you are doing. Focus on obtaining the skills YOU need to succeed.
What advice would you give to a medical student looking to pursue a similar path as yours?
Radiation Oncology is a VERY competitive subspecialty. Connect with a mentor in the field early and find a way to get both a clinical and research experience. Since there are still certain racial/ethnic groups that are underrepresented in oncology, there are several excellent scholarships available for summer research/clinical experiences for minority students who think they may be interested in a career in oncology. Check out ASCO and ASTRO websites for more information.
What advice would you give to someone getting ready to start their application process to residency?
Residency application is not the same as medical school. It is a JOB application and should be taken as such. Do not put anything on your CV that is not true or that you cannot speak about in detail. Your personal statement should be a reflection of what makes you the best candidate for the job.
What is your favorite thing about your job?
I love interacting with patients. And because I specialize in the treatment of lymphoma and breast cancer, I really do get to help cure cancer for a good number of my patients.
Do you have another professional degree? If so, how has it impacted you?
My dissertation research started my career in radiation oncology. Having a PhD opens up doors but is not a necessity for folks interested in a becoming a physician-scientist. I loved my time in the lab but realized I was passionate about taking care of patients. Some people are able to do both simultaneously. I am not one of those individuals. It’s important to know yourself!
What do you feel makes your specialty stand out from other health professions?
Due to the complexity of clinical care, medicine in general is becoming more multidisciplinary, but radiation oncology is truly a team sport. As a radiation oncologist, I rely on my dosimetrists, physicists, nursing staff and most importantly, the radiation therapists who deliver daily therapy, to help create a safe and welcoming environment for my patients.
Thank you so much for all of this useful information and for talking about the path you took towards becoming a Radiation Oncologist Dr. Winkfield! Your presence in this field is extremely inspiring and will surely motivate many people, especially those who will read this feature! We appreciate you and everything you do for your patients and the community!
Health Career Spotlights Home Page
Posted on January 23rd, 2017