Community Oncologist Underscores Importance of Education and Collaboration

Derek Thomas, MD, discusses his experience as a community oncologist and some challenges faced in practice.

Derek Thomas, MD

In order for community oncologists to provide the best possible care for their patients, they must stay informed on the latest data and research efforts being made across tumor types; this can be particularly challenging, according to Derek Thomas, MD.

“It's very important to keep as up to date as possible on the newest advances made in oncology; to do this, you need to be really self-motivated [to do so]. We've all entered the field of oncology, where we signed up for a life of learning,” said Thomas. “We all enjoy that, but we definitely have to be very dedicated in our efforts to stay abreast of the latest information.”

To do so, community oncologists need to ensure that they are aware of the clinical trials that are available to their patients so that they can refer them when applicable and they need to ensure that they attend medical meetings such as the State of the Science Summits,™ which afford them with the opportunity to network with others working in the space.

“As a community oncologist, keeping up with the latest information can sometimes be challenging. Having events like these provide the community with expert speakers who are speaking to critical information that can be applied to practice; this is very valuable for our community oncologists.”

In an interview during the 2020 OncLive® State of the Science Summit™ on Lung Cancer, Thomas, a hematologist/oncologist at Blanchard Valley Health System, discussed his experience as a community oncologist and some challenges faced in practice.

OncLive: Could you speak to your experience as a general oncologist?

Thomas: As a as a general oncologist, I see many patients with different types of cancer. We're in front of patients every day. Patients are more educated now than ever before and they have very good questions. They want to know detailed information about their treatment options. We live in an era of patient-directed care, and I believe being knowledgeable about all available options, and the risks and benefits of those approaches is essential. The ability to adequately convey and communicate that information with our patients is very important.

What are some challenges that you face as a community oncologist?

One specific challenge has to do with how rapidly the field of oncology is evolving, which is a good thing. [This evolution is] exciting, but it's also a lot to keep track of, especially as a community oncologist. This is only going to get more challenging the more we move forward. Having consolidative information and being able to communicate effectively with our researchers, other teams, and tertiary specialists to keep up with the latest information that is coming out is very important.

What tools are you using to keep track of updates in oncology?

To [stay informed,] we read data summaries and [updates from] key trials; we also stay abreast of the practice-changing information that comes out of major medical conferences. Our tertiary specialists are also very good sources of information and they help us dramatically. We share patients [with these specialists] and soak [up their valuable insight].

What key piece of advice do you have for other community oncologists?

We're not in this alone. We're working as a team to improve the outcomes of our patients. Our local community is working closely with our other specialty services, including surgeons and radiation oncologists, to provide comprehensive plans for our patients. [We’re also] sharing our patients with tertiary centers to provide them with [the opportunity to participate on] clinical trials. We're a team, and all of us want the same goal, which is to provide our patients with the best possible outcomes.

Could you expand on how you provide your patients with access to clinical trials?

We collaborate with a tertiary center with Mayo Clinic that we can access at any point in time; they have clinical trials that are locally available [for our patients] at their center, both regionally and nationally. We have a research team in our own clinic that can help assess clinical trials locally in our own network of healthcare systems, but also regionally and nationally, if necessary. Sometimes, we refer patients to tertiary care centers. Additionally, we are part of a cooperative group that offers a breadth of clinical trials locally to our patients who can't, or don't wish to, travel for that access.

How do meetings like State of the Science Summits™ help community oncologists?

The goal of having the State of Science Summit™ on lung cancer is to provide a general overview of key information from pivotal studies and the practical implications of those data. As we all know, cancer is a rapidly-evolving field, one that is changing quite dramatically for the better, especially with regard to lung cancer. We need to stay abreast of the latest developments.

Networking is also so important. Events like this provide us with the opportunity to meet face-to-face with some of the specialists who we share our patients with; it opens up the lines of communication and makes the relationship more collegial. At the end of the day, our efforts are all directed to care for the patients the best we can and [strong communication and collaboration allow us to do that].