Joyce A. O’Shaughnessy, MD
Joyce A. O’Shaughnessy, MD, may be an accomplished clinical investigator, researcher, and educator, but at the end of the day, it’s her patients who drive her.
“I am inspired by my patients; I wouldn’t be able to do it otherwise,” said O’Shaughnessy, the medical director and director of Breast Cancer Research at the US Oncology Research Network. “It is the clinical care and the patients who motivate me. It has kept me right where I am, and it is what gets me out of bed every morning.”
It is her commitment to patients that also drives her to share her knowledge with others, said O’Shaughnessy, who was named a 2016 Giants of Cancer Care®
award winner in the Community Outreach/Education category. She has served as a leader at numerous conferences and meetings: as program director for the School of Breast Oncology®
, now in its 15th year; as chair of the International Congress on the Future of Breast Cancer®
, which will feature its first East Coast version in New York City in July along with its traditional West Coast conference in San Diego; as a member of the Program Committee for the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s Breast Cancer Symposium; and as a co-chair for the American Association for Cancer Research Chemoprevention Annual Meeting Symposium, just to name a few.
“I find my peers and colleagues turning to me, and I turn to them for help and guidance. It is usually about patient management, so the goal is really about trying to help the individual patient,” said O’Shaughnessy. “I see the impact that education can have as I talk to people who have an experience that I haven’t had and I, in turn, help teach and give suggestions to other doctors dealing with challenges that I have had.”
What Inspired Her Passion
The first patient to motivate O’Shaughnessy was her sister, Teri, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age 5 in 1970, when O’Shaughnessy was in high school. She was treated on clinical trials and for a period of time did well. O’Shaughnessy wanted to better understand the disease her sister was fighting and soon became very interested in the biology of leukemia.
When Teri died in 1975, O’Shaughnessy had just started attending The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. Her sister’s death intensified her interest in fighting cancer, and although she was only a freshman biology student, O’Shaughnessy started conducting leukemia research with the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology (now called the Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research).
“It was a bit unusual, but I made it a priority,” said O’Shaughnessy. “It was very important to me. It was my number one priority to get into cancer research immediately, and I wasn’t going to wait until graduate school.”
In 1978, O’Shaughnessy completed her undergraduate degree and went on to continue studying leukemia at Yale University Medical School. After graduating in 1982 and completing her internship and residency at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1985, O’Shaughnessy performed her oncology fellowship at the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
It was there, in 1990, that she made the switch from leukemia to breast cancer, where her focus is today. She remained at the NCI until 1995 and then briefly worked at Kentuckiana Medical Oncology Associates in Louisville, Kentucky, before transferring to Texas Oncology/US Oncology in 1997.
At first, the switch in tumor study areas was based primarily on opportunity. She was working in a laboratory studying tumor virus biology when she was offered a chance to work as a senior investigator, running her own human clinical trials in the Medical Breast Cancer Section at the NCI.
She soon realized that breast cancer was the field for her.