Teaching the Finer Points of Radiation Oncology

  • 07 May 2023
  • 4 mins

Dr. Michelle Tseng is a radiation oncologist who bears more than 10 years of clinical experience treating breast cancer, and gynecological and pediatric cancers. In addition to possessing knowledge on advanced radiation therapies, she is a believer in honing her expertise through teaching the essential facets of her field. She received the National University of Singapore Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine Good Teacher Award in 2022 and explains her twin passions of teaching and treating patients.

Teaching Radiation Oncology

I have taught radiation biology, radiation physics, anatomy, and pathology to medical students, radiation therapy students, and junior doctors. In addition, I also teach radiation treatment planning and the clinical management of different types of cancer to radiation oncology residents and radiation oncologists.

I have always enjoyed teaching and for me, the interactions with the students or junior doctors bring me the most joy and satisfaction. I would put myself in their shoes, remembering the time when I was like them and think to myself “How would I have liked to have been taught?” I then try to teach in a way that would have appealed to my younger self.

Teaching different audiences and in different countries has benefited me greatly in several aspects.

By interacting with other doctors, I can learn about different approaches to medicine, including differences in diagnostic and treatment strategies. This helps to broaden my understanding and provides me with new insights that I can apply to my own practice.

Interactions with other doctors and specialists provide me with opportunities for professional development, including opportunities to network with colleagues, attend conferences, and participate in continuing education programs. This helps me to stay current with the latest developments in my field so that I can continue to grow professionally.

Teaching in different countries can help a doctor to develop cross-cultural communication skills, which can be especially valuable in today's globalized world. I can gain a deeper understanding of the cultural context in which I am working, including differences in attitudes towards health, illness, and medical treatment.

This can help to provide more culturally sensitive care and to better understand the unique challenges faced by patients, especially in Singapore where we treat patients from many different countries. Effective cross-cultural communication can help a doctor to build trust with patients, to better understand their needs and concerns, and to provide more effective care.

Explaining Radiation Oncology

Radiation oncology is a medical specialty that deals with the use of high-energy radiation to treat cancer. This type of therapy uses specialized equipment to deliver precise doses of radiation to specific areas of the body, with the goal of destroying cancer cells while minimizing harm to surrounding healthy tissue.

Radiation therapy can be used alone or in combination with other treatments, such as chemotherapy and surgery, to provide the best possible outcome for patients. It is a critical component of cancer care and is used to treat a wide range of cancers, including breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, and many others.

Radiation oncologists work with a team of other healthcare professionals, including medical oncologists, surgeons, and radiation therapists, to develop individualized treatment plans for each patient. They also monitor the progress of treatment and provide ongoing support and care for patients throughout the course of their therapy.

The Multifaceted Role of a Radiation Oncologist

The role of a radiation oncologist in helping patients is multifaceted and critical to the delivery of high-quality cancer care. Radiation oncologists play a vital role in helping patients with cancer by working closely with other healthcare professionals to diagnose, treat, and manage their disease. They provide expertise and compassion to patients and their families, helping them to navigate the challenges of cancer treatment and achieve the best possible outcome.

The various stages in which a radiation oncologist helps patients include:

1. Diagnosis
Radiation oncologists work closely with other healthcare professionals to diagnose cancer and determine the most appropriate course of treatment. They use imaging studies, such as computerized tomography (CT) or positron emission tomography (PET) scans, to create detailed images of the tumor and surrounding tissue.

2. Treatment planning
Radiation oncologists use the information obtained from the diagnosis to develop a treatment plan that will effectively target the cancer while minimizing harm to healthy tissue. They work closely with other members of the treatment team, such as medical oncologists and surgeons, to determine the best course of treatment for each patient.

3. Delivery of radiation therapy
Radiation oncologists work closely with radiation therapists to oversee the delivery of radiation therapy, ensuring that the correct dose of radiation is delivered to the correct area. They also monitor patients throughout treatment to ensure that the therapy is being well tolerated and that any side effects are managed effectively.

4. Ongoing care
Radiation oncologists provide ongoing care and support to patients throughout their treatment and beyond. They monitor patients for any signs of treatment-related side effects and work closely with other members of the care team to manage these effects. They also provide patients with information and resources to help them cope with the physical, emotional, and practical challenges of their treatment.

Lessons from Teaching

Teaching is an important part of a doctor's professional development, and it can bring many benefits both for the doctor and for their patients. A few of the key benefits of teaching include:

1. Improved knowledge
By teaching others, I am engaged to review and my knowledge and review, which helps me to deepen my understanding of a subject. This can be especially helpful in the field of medicine, where new research and advancements are constantly being made.

2. Enhanced communication skills
Teaching requires effective communication skills, and by teaching others, I can develop and refine my ability to explain complex medical concepts in a clear and concise manner. This can be especially important in the doctor-patient relationship, where clear communication can help patients better understand their medical conditions and treatment options.

3. Networking opportunities
Teaching has provided me with opportunities to network with colleagues, meet other healthcare professionals, and expand my professional network. This can be beneficial for my career development and can provide opportunities for collaboration and learning from others in the field.

4. Better patient outcomes
By improving my knowledge through teaching, I can provide up-to-date and effective care to my patients, leading to better health outcomes.

5. Increased patient satisfaction
Effective communication and displaying a deep understanding of medical concepts can lead to improved patient satisfaction, as patients would feel that their doctor has taken the time to fully understand and explain their medical conditions.

Emerging Technologies

The role of a radiation oncologist is likely to be both enhanced and challenged by advancing technology in the field of radiation oncology.

On the one hand, the availability of new technologies has the potential to greatly enhance the capabilities of radiation oncologists, allowing them to deliver more precise and effective treatments with fewer side effects.

For example, advances in imaging and treatment planning technology, applied in image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT), intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS), and stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT), have made it possible to deliver higher doses of radiation to tumors while sparing healthy tissue.

Additionally, the development of new forms of radiation therapy, such as proton therapy and carbon ion therapy, has expanded the range of treatment options available to patients and further advanced the capabilities of radiation oncologists.

On the other hand, the rapid pace of technological change in radiation oncology can pose challenges for radiation oncologists. Keeping up with new advances and incorporating these into their practice requires ongoing training and education. Additionally, the increasing complexity of new technologies can require radiation oncologists to develop new skills and knowledge to effectively utilize these tools to deliver the best possible care to their patients.

The role of a radiation oncologist is likely to continue to evolve and be shaped by advances in technology. However, regardless of these changes, the importance of expertise in forming a diagnosis, treatment planning, and delivery of radiation therapy will remain central to providing high-quality cancer care.

Contributed by

Dr. Michelle Tseng
Radiation Oncologist
Asian Alliance Radiation and Oncology