Exploring Culture Essay
Kelsey D. Vormbrock
University of Kentucky
Since the Year 2010 the cases of childhood cancer have increased by nearly 24%, causing an
urgent need for more doctors. These certified doctors are more commonly known as Pediatric
Hematologists/Oncologists. They are the ones that work with children and young adults suffering
from cancer and blood diseases. In this paper there will be a brief overview of the disease itself
as well as the patients that are involved. It is meant to convey not only the importance and
growing urgency for these specialists but also explain the cultural behaviors that majority of
them practice and believe in. The main purpose however will be to give insight into these doctors
attitudes towards their jobs, coping with the inevitable hardships, as well as their religious values
and beliefs in alternate forms of medicines.
Keywords: Cancer, Cultures, Oncologists, Oncology, Pediatrician, Pediatrics
Exploring Culture Essay
We all know someone who has had cancer or who has been affected by this awful
disease, but does everyone know a child who is living or has lived with it? The answer to this is
no. This is because childhood cancers are very rare, making the caregivers of those children all
the more important. The doctors that work with these children are called pediatric oncologists.
They are faced with the day to day challenging tasks that come with working with those children
who are fighting a battle against cancer. They have special beliefs and values strictly due to who
their clientele is. Pediatric oncologists are warriors against cancer; much like the road to beating
cancer is not easy neither is the road to curing it.
As previously mentioned the road to becoming a pediatric oncologist is not one without
struggle. Those interested in pursuing a career in pediatric oncology, or going in to any medical
field for that matter, must first obtain a bachelor’s degree. Most students planning on going to
medical school will get a degree in some sort of life sciences; however, this is not a requirement
for admission to medical school. Taking the MCAT is one of the most important steps in
becoming a pediatric oncologist. The MCAT is a standardized test that measures students on
problem solving, critical thinking and scientific knowledge (Education Portal, 2011). How well
one does on this test will determine their admission to medical school and how good of a
program they can be accepted in to. Applying for and choosing which medical school to go to
will be another very important decision to make. Upon graduation from medical school these
new doctors must obtain a medical license before beginning their three year residency. After the
residency has been completed they must be certified by the American Board of Pediatrics in
order to begin their fellowship process. Their fellowship will then be completed in pediatric
hematology/oncology. Some of you may be wondering where and how hematology comes in to
play with oncology. Well in most cases they go hand in hand. Hematology is the study of blood
and blood forming organs. Many childhood cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma and
osteosarcoma have something to do with abnormalities of blood cells or affect the bones, often
times resulting in the need for bone marrow transplants. For this reason it is not uncommon to
see pediatric oncologists participate in a fellowship specializing in the two together. Once the
fellowship has been completed they will become board certified in pediatric
The basic job description of a pediatric oncologist is to
treat children with cancer and blood diseases. As mentioned
above, childhood cancer is very rare and even harder to
diagnose. Suspicions of cancer are usually first noticed by a
family doctor or pediatrician and from there the children are
sent to the pediatric oncologists for further testing. Depending
on the symptoms being shown by the patient, the pediatric
oncologist will order a test for the most likely cancer. Different
cancers require different tests in order for a proper diagnosis to
be made. These tests could include blood tests, inspection of cell
Figure 1. Ben with Dr. Salman
[Photograph]. Retrieved October 2, 2014,
samples, or other forms of genetic and molecular testing. Once a diagnosis has been made a
treatment plan will be constructed and the battle towards remission begins.
While it is commonly thought that any doctor working in pediatrics would only deal with
children ages birth to 18 that is not necessarily the case for pediatric oncology. Not all cases of
childhood cancers are seen in young children or even teenagers. There are often cases involving
adults up to the age of thirty. “Recent studies have shown that young adults under the age of 30
who have a pediatric cancer usually fair better when they are treated by a pediatric oncologist on
pediatric protocols” (M. Halstead, personal communication, September 22, 2014).
With approximately 13,400 new cases of childhood cancer each year the community of
pediatric oncologists is a fast growing one. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the
demand for pediatric oncologists is expected to increase by 24% from 2010 to 2020 (Bureau of
Labor Statistics, 2014). This is primarily due to the expected increase in childhood cancer cases.
The lifestyle of a pediatric oncologist is much different from a typical white collar worker
and from most doctors even. Majority will work a 60+ hour work week between office hours,
seeing patients, running labs, and doing paperwork. Most of them however, are still able to be
flexible with their hours and make time for family. The average salary for these doctors in the
U.S. is $195,249. While the pay is good and most of them enjoy their work, there is still the
inevitable tragedy that comes with the job. Approximately 2,000 children, under the age of 19,
die each year in the United States from cancer. Cure rates for most childhood cancers are at a
current 75% (National Cancer Institute, 2014). With this number you can figure that out of every
100 patients a single oncologist will lose 25. To put that into perspective most people will only
experience about 27 close deaths in a lifetime.
There are mandatory courses that these doctors must go through before becoming
certified. These courses include training in death and dying, and classes in child development
(M. Halstead, personal communication, September 22, 2014). Once they have been certified they
must continue going through CEU’s (Continuing Education Units) and professional development
seminars. “I try to get all my work done in the office before I leave the office and when I walk
out of the office I just kind of turn a switch in my brain and I just don’t dwell on it. Now once in
a while I think a little bit more about it but I realize it’s not doing anyone any good for me to
dwell on it” (Nick Code, personal communication, September 23, 2014). Some of these doctors
will seek out therapeutic help in times of especially tough cases but it is not mandatory.
Although religious beliefs vary widely across races, cultures, lifestyles, and careers there
is a common trend among pediatric oncologists when it comes to the subject. The two people
that were interviewed for this paper both identified
as Christian and said that majority of the people
they work with are also some variation of
Christianity. As everyone knows children are
naturally very curious but when you throw
something like cancer and the chance of death into
Figure 2. Bible Medicine [Photograph]. Retrieved October 2,
2014, from:
the equation that innocent curiosity intensifies.
While it is generally hospital policy to not talk
about religious affiliation with patients if a dying child asks if God and Heaven are real nobody
is going to tell them no. “I typically don’t talk about it unless they bring it up themselves and I
try to use really open ended questions. But everybody’s beliefs are special and I just try to honor
it” (M. Halstead, personal communication, September 22, 2014).
(Advice info)
As demonstrated above the tasks that come with being a pediatric oncologist stretch far
beyond simply curing children of their cancer. Yes they prescribe treatments such as
chemotherapy and radiation and their overall goal is to rid the children of their disease but most
of us don’t realize what goes on in these treatment sessions, much less outside of them. To these
kids their doctors are more than just doctors. They are more than just the people stabbing them
with needles and making their hair fall out. To these kids their doctors are their heroes, their
support systems, their friends. They are the ones putting all of their time and effort into healing
them, caring for them, and getting to know them as the brilliant children that they are rather than
the walking disease that most of us see them as.
Many people think of pediatric oncologists and they think one of two things; 1. What
kind of a morose person wants to work with dying children all day or 2. It takes an extremely
selfless and compassionate person to be able to work with severely and terminally ill children. So
I ask you, which person will you be? The one who thinks of these incredible men and women as
morbid death doctors or the one who thinks of them as the lights of hope that they are. Cancer
doesn’t discriminate, why should we?
As you can see it takes a lot of hard work and determination to become a pediatric
oncologist. These men and women that endure those never ending years of schooling, those all
night study sessions and the piles of debt that are always adding up are one of life’s great
wonders. They have more in common than just their job title. They all work towards the same
goal of healing those children plagued by the awful diseases of cancer. They share the same
ethical and moral values when it comes to their job and their patients. They are a well-defined
culture of hard working heroes.
Decker, Fred. Pediatric Oncologist Job Description. Retrieved from
Education Portal (2011, March 11). Become a Pediatric Oncologist: Education and Career
Roadmap. Retrieved from
Healthcare Salaries (2014). Pediatric Oncologist Salary. Retrieved from (2013, May 13). What is a Pediatric Hematologist/Oncologist?. Retrieved