September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month and many employees at Healthgrades have been working to increase awareness for childhood cancer research and treatment. Our team recently sat down with Denver Pediatric Oncologist and Hematologist, Dr. Julie Zimbelman, at Rocky Mountain Pediatric Hematology Oncology to discuss her career path, how she’s built a team to serve patients and what Childhood Cancer Awareness month means to her.
Q. How did you decide to go into medicine and choose this particular path? Was there a turning point that you reflect on now?
A. “I always wanted to be a doctor for as long as I can remember, I feel it was always my true calling. In my fourth year of medical school I did a pediatric hematology rotation and my mentor, who is still a treasured friend, said to me “don’t you see that this is what you are supposed to do with your life?” It is a very hopeful field and these kids deserve people fighting for them because they have so much of their life ahead of them.”
Q. What is your average day-to-day like?
A. “Daily I see patients with a variety of needs, and in different phases along their journey. When I am with patients who have had a recent diagnosis my hope for them is strengthened by being with patients who are now recovering and healing. It is such a gift to follow my patients for years, we get to know each other really well.”
Q. Do you think reviews can help increase the confidence in patients trying to choose the right doctor?
A. “When patients, or their families, share their experiences it can be very powerful. I do think that patients need to interpret the meaning of reviews with caution. For physicians, it can be very hard to read reviews because there may be negative ones and that is difficult when you have worked so hard to do right by the patient.”
Q. What advice do you have for other caregivers for building trusted relationships with patients and their families?
A. “My advice is to be very honest, transparent and empathetic. Even when it is tough you must be straightforward, and also admit when you don’t have the answers. Physicians have a very busy schedule but we must take the time with patients and work hard to be sure they get what they need. If we can’t do that then we are not doing right by our patients.
Q. Can you speak about building and sustaining your team and the importance of these connections?
A. “We have big teams and every person is important. They all show great compassion. For example, our nurses take great care in making the rooms welcoming and familiar for each patient with special pillowcases matching each child’s personality. Our staff extends their care supporting many events including our annual “Celebration of Life” event in September and the Cure Search Superheroes event.
Q. What is your involvement with cancer research and clinical trials?
A. “Our program is a member of The Children’s Oncology Group (COG) (a National Cancer Institute supported clinical trials group) and a supporter of Cure Search (a non-profit that accelerates the search for cures). It is important to know what treatment options are available throughout the country. I wish there was more awareness and funding for research, it is the research that has improved the outcomes for these children.”
Dr. Zimbelman has bright red boxing gloves hanging on her office door, allegorical of her more than 20 years in the ring with childhood cancer. And the smiles of the many she fights for are celebrated in framed photos around the room.