The idea of becoming a physician satisfied my love for science and my desire to provide service to people in need.— Jennifer Lycette, MD
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Born and reared in Anchorage, a city located in Southcentral Alaska, farther north than St. Petersburg, Russia, Jennifer Lycette, MD, grew up during the 1970s and 1980s. “We were fairly isolated from the lower 48. We didn’t have cable TV in Anchorage, and I remember my father would turn off the TV so he wouldn’t hear who won the ballgame, because we wouldn’t get it until much later. But those things didn’t bother us. It was a good childhood. We’d ice skate during recess at school.”
“My mother was a CCU nurse, and I was always interested in her work. She’d bring me to the hospital once in a while, and I was impressed by how highly she spoke of the doctors she worked with. She definitely encouraged me to become a doctor,” admitted Dr. Lycette.
Dr. Lycette’s father, a retired pilot, went straight from high school into the Army. “He didn’t go to college, but he had a very strong work ethic. His support helped me on my road to college and eventually medical school,” Dr. Lycette shared.
Mixing Science With Service
“After high school, I left Anchorage and did my undergraduate studies at the University of San Francisco, California. We visited San Francisco, and I completely fell in love with the city and its diversity, especially coming from a place like Anchorage,” she said.
Dr. Lycette majored in biochemistry, and while at the University of San Francisco, she did some volunteer work in the hospital. “One of the culture shocks of transitioning from Anchorage to a big city like San Francisco was seeing so much homelessness and despair on the streets,” she noted. “I felt the need to contribute in some way by providing service to the underserved in the community. And as I went through college, the idea of becoming a physician satisfied my love for science and my desire to provide service to people in need.”
Dr. Lycette received her BS degree from the University of San Francisco in 1996 and entered the University of Washington (UW) School of Medicine in Seattle. “UW Medicine has a program called WWAMI, which operates in Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho. It gives students from those states the opportunity to complete their first year of medical school in their home state. I was one of 10 students from Alaska who was accepted by WWAMI. So I did my first year of medical school back in Anchorage. After the first year, all the students from the WWAMI states returned to UW Medicine in Seattle to finish medical school,” revealed Dr. Lycette. She added: “The program incentivized medical students to return to their home states and provide medical care in underserved and rural communities.”
From Seattle to Boston
During medical school Dr. Lycette was drawn to internal medicine, and her decision to pursue a career in oncology did not form until her residency and internship. She attained her MD in 2000 from the University of Washington and went to Boston, where she began her residency at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
“During my internship year, I did a rotation at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. On my first day of pre-rounding, my first patient was a woman with breast cancer. It was the first time I’d ever seen a patient on chemotherapy. She was frail and bald and wasn’t feeling well. It was a new experience, and I wanted to do whatever I could to make her feel better, so I ended up spending my whole pre-rounding time with her. There were seven others I was supposed to have seen, and I sort of panicked and went into a cold sweat. It was my first day, and I wanted to make a good impression,” she shared.
Dr. Lycette continued: “When it was time for rounds I told my attending what had happened, and to my surprise he didn’t chew me out. I think that was my first impression about oncologists: they were a bit more understanding than most doctors.”
Her rotations at Dana-Farber and Beth Israel Deaconess intensified her desire for a career that mixed science and medicine. It was an exciting time. Imatinib had just arrived on the market, opening a window to the possibilities that lie ahead. “The fact that someone had figured out why a particular line of cells go awry and begin the carcinogenic process and had developed a drug to cure it had a huge impression on me,” she admitted. That someone happened to be Dr. Brian Druker, Director of the Knight Cancer Institute at Dr. Lycette’s current institution, Oregon Health and Science University.
Attending a multidisciplinary breast clinic during which a patient visited clinicians from the three disciplines affected Dr. Lycette’s perspective on care. “At the end of the clinic day, the patient and her husband sat down in a conference room with the three clinicians. The couple, who were at one end of the table with the doctors at the other end, seemed totally uncomfortable and overwhelmed by the setting. At that moment, I thought to myself that although the science in oncology was progressing, which was exciting, we can do a lot better with doctor-patient interaction.”
Community Oncology Practice
After completing her residency, Dr. Lycette returned to the Pacific Northwest and did her hematology-oncology fellowship at the Oregon Health and Science University Cancer Institute. After her fellowship, Dr. Lycette was part of a community oncology practice in Portland, Oregon, for 7 years.
“About 3 years ago, I took my current position as Medical Director of the clinic in Astoria, Oregon, which is a joint community clinic between Columbia Memorial Hospital and the Oregon Health and Science University Knight Cancer Institute. This was a joint program that began a few years before I arrived. Before beginning the program, patients had a 2-hour commute each way to receive care.”
For the past few years, Dr. Lycette has been the sole medical oncologist in the clinic. She is currently part of an effort to build a new cancer center in Astoria, which will be completed and open for new patients in October 2017. The partnership will raise the level of cancer care in this rural area to that once thought unattainable.
Building a New Cancer Center
“It has been an exciting and rewarding experience to be part of a team building a new cancer center, which will also offer radiation therapy,” declared Dr. Lycette. “We’ll also be hiring a second medical oncologist, and we hope in the future to have fellows rotating at the center.”
Dr. Lycette continued: “It’s rewarding on many levels because I feel I’ve been able to circle around and fulfill some of the service that was entrusted to me to be able to go to medical school through the WWAMI program. Delivering care in a rural center is rewarding, and the gratitude from the community has been overwhelming. I’m fortunate in that I’m not just making a difference for the patients I see every day, but I’m also given the opportunity to play a role in the building of a new cancer center, which will provide cancer services for the whole North Coast region of Oregon, as well as the Southwest Coast of Washington.”
Dr. Lycette believes her center and the partnership with the regional hospital could serve as a cancer care model for other rural areas. It’s a challenging undertaking, but since her early days rounding at Dana-Farber and Beth Israel Deaconess, she’s always considered oncology as a calling to care for our sickest patients. ■
Disclosure: Dr. Lycette reported no potential conflicts of interest.