Raymond Mailhot, MD, MPH, dedicates his research to improving radiation treatment. He cares for pediatric patients and patients with breast cancer, and he leads the hematology malignancy radiotherapy program. In this Q&A, Dr. Mailhot shares how he's working to accelerate equity in cancer care and reflects on personal experiences with structural racism in oncology.
- How are you improving care for young patients with cancer?
For patients with pediatric cancers, many times our goal is to maximize survivorship to the fullest. Many childhood cancers have excellent prognoses, so my goal is to follow these patients until I retire! As a radiation oncologist, I’m fortunate in that my patients do not 'age out of' seeking my care. My research focuses on better improving outcomes for young people with cancer such as understanding how radiotherapy to the brain can impact academic success. Furthermore, I focus on evaluating disparities of cancer outcomes by race and ethnicity.
- How does investing in early-career researchers ultimately help patients?
Early-career researchers, by definition, are (and determine) the future of scientific investigation. Improving the diversity of scientists by championing diversity of thoughts, ideas, and backgrounds will yield multiple strategies and efforts to help all our patients. Providing early-career researchers with a foundation for funding and the prestige of Conquer Cancer grants is helping us establish a solid base from which we can seek grant support in the future.
- How has support from Conquer Cancer helped accelerate your career research?
Radiation oncology has a high premium for research, and I discovered the field later during my time in medical school. The MSR award provided me with validation to pursue subsequent research endeavors and applications, and the funding enabled me to complete research with my mentor in Boston. By joining the Conquer Cancer awardee family, I’ve also been able to tap into invaluable networking opportunities.
- What is one change you’d like to see in cancer research 10 years from today?
I would like to see an oncology workforce that reflects our national demographics. I'm working to increase representation of Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous radiation oncologists as a leader of the Workforce working group of the American Society for Radiation Oncology’s Committee on Health Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.
- What are some challenges you’ve personally experienced in terms of structural and institutional racism in oncology and healthcare? How do you overcome these obstacles?
When we think about structural racism, one challenge that is difficult to quantify is the inequity in opportunities afforded to people from historically marginalized backgrounds. From my own experience, I’ve been asked by others in medicine to “validate someone else’s Latinidad,” (such as their Spanish fluency) or been given feedback based on my ability to speak Spanish rather than the merit of my clinical work.
I believe a key solution to overcoming these obstacles is diversifying our oncology and healthcare workforce to truly reflect our national population demographics and by taking a hard look at how we place value on individual accomplishments. We also need to reflect on ways to center equity when designing recruitment, promotion, selection, and retention strategies in the oncology field. Drs. Tema Okun and Keith Jones offer resources I find useful in this space; they help people accelerate equity rather than uphold traditional standards of “professionalism.” They encourage tangible ways we can create more equitable, inclusive spaces for people from groups historically excluded from medicine.
The MSR provides financial support for U.S. medical students from populations underrepresented in medicine who are interested in a career in oncology. MSR recipients participate in a minimum four-week clinical or clinical research rotation. Each participant is paired with a mentor who oversees the rotation and provides ongoing academic and career guidance. The award includes a stipend covering costs for the student’s rotation and their travel to the ASCO Annual Meeting.