Dr. Christopher Wilke is an Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology at the University of Minnesota and specializes in the treatment of head and neck and CNS malignancies. He is the neuro-oncology Associate Editor for Radiation Oncology at theMednet.
Dr. Wilke isn't a typical pre-med story. His first interest was in the field of biomedical engineering where he earned his bachelors degree from the University of Iowa in 2003. And while he enjoyed the work in the research labs, he found the greatest fulfillment through patient interaction.
So, he opted to pursue the MD–PhD program at the University of Minnesota where his dissertation research centered on functional brain imaging. Upon returning to his clinical training, Dr. Wilke rotated through a variety of medical specialties before fortuitously discovering the field of radiation oncology.
The biggest challenge that Dr. Wilke encounters on a day-to-day basis? Logistics. "A number of my patients have poor social support systems and sometimes we spend as much if not more time getting them the services that they need than we do on their radiation treatment plans.” Bureaucracy is typically another daily headache. “The increased use of blanket prior authorization by insurance companies creates a lot of frustration when trying to deliver timely treatment for my patients.”
Dr. Wilke admits that the field of radiation oncology remains poorly understood by many in the general medical community. That is why he encourages any medical students curious about the specialty to rotate through and find a trusted mentor. It is not every day you get to apply physics to treating cancer!
Radiation oncology is a small office no matter what institution you step foot in: it's a blend of traditional physics and treating cancer that catered nicely to Dr. Wilke's seemingly unrelated interests of engineering and patient care.
The latter is what medicine is all about to Dr. Wilke: caring for patients with cancer. “It may be my engineering background, but the one aspect that I enjoy the most about being a radiation oncologist is applying the tools I have at my disposal to solve the problems that my patients present with—either curing them of their disease or palliating a symptomatic lesion.”
Those sorts of victories are cherished. It isn't often Dr. Wilke sees patients who present with early stage disease. Some, he says, haven't been able to seek medical care for years and have advanced problems and troubling prognoses. “When you have some of these very aggressive diseases and your treatment ends up working…those are some of the best moments for me," a transient but compelling reason to continue work, one patient at a time.