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Dr. Juanita Crook: My Beginnings in Radiation Oncology

September 6, 2012

I grew up in Ontario, attended the University of Toronto for undergraduate studies on a scholarship and continued on with medical school. My father was a high school teacher and thought I should become one too but I had other dreams that didn’t involve teaching school. He always encouraged me to perform to the best of my ability and didn’t oppose my choice, except on one occasion: in grade 12, I wanted to pursue my artistic and creative talents and attend the Ontario College of Art instead of university. He responded by threatening to disown me.

I had to admit he was right. Creating good art was difficult. Science and math were the easy marks, and interesting too. I loved physics because it made so much sense. Biology was fascinating. I worked for several summers in the Biology Department at U of T and realized it was human biology that I really wanted to learn more about. And thus I ended up in medicine.

I started off in Family Practice but upon completion of that program I took a job at Princess Margaret Hospital looking after in-patients. I would listen in when the staff did their rounds and taught the residents in radiation oncology. When I started answering the questions they asked the residents, I realized that radiation oncology was the specialty I had been looking for.

My mentors during the three years of my radiation oncology training were Dr. Gillian Thomas and Dr. Bernard Cummings, both uncompromising with incisive, organized minds. Both later went on to become world leaders in radiation oncology. Dr. Cummings received the ASTRO Gold Medal last year, one of the highest honours of our profession!

My first real exposure to research in radiation oncology was during my one-year Gordon Richards Fellowship which I spent under Professor Jean Claude Horiot in Dijon and Professor Bernard Pierquin in Creteil, a suburb of Paris. I co-authored about ten manuscripts and realized the importance of analytical thinking to progress in radiation oncology. It can be as simple as watching what happens, reporting it and explaining it, in order to improve outcomes.