Dr. Dwight Owen is an Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine in the Division of Medical Oncology at Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center. His research and clinical focus is thoracic oncology, and understanding mechanisms of secondary resistance to targeted and immune-based therapies. Dr. Owen is the thoracic malignancies Associate Editor for medical oncology at theMednet!
Dr. Dwight Owen recognized from an early age the terror that patients face when given a diagnosis of cancer. "Patients sometimes feel that their providers are at a loss of what to do for them, and that makes it difficult to take ownership of what's going on. What drove me to oncology was the human connection...the idea of helping someone even when the traditional metrics of "fixing problems" in medicine isn't achievable. At the end of the day, patients need to feel cared for and connected to their provider team." Dr. Owen always knew that an internal medicine and oncology focus was the right fit for him, as those specialties allowed him to be his patients' "home base". That human connection was readily available in oncology, he explains, "[because] we can form long term, special relationships with patients."
In his first year of fellowship, Dr. Owen had an unforgettable patient experience that helped shape his impressions of medicine. He was treating a patient with advanced disease who had an unlikely prospect of survival. After a few intense days of treatment, in the middle of the night, Dr. Owen got a call from the overnight team. "They told me the patient wanted to make sure whatever they were recommending was OK'd by me," even though he was just the first-year fellow on the team. What followed was a difficult conversation between Dr. Owen and his patient that his attending later called, "an important, vital conversation." Dr. Owen remarks, "that whole experience really sticks with me. I think about it and that patient often."
Those experiences also bring some of the toughest challenges Dr. Owen and other oncologists have to face. "We [as physicians] constantly find ourselves trying to hold out hope for new treatments, and that they'll arrive in time for our patients. The unfortunate truth that we must face is that won't be the case for many. Even two years makes a difference. There will be patients I meet today that won't be able to see the next advance in treatment." What keeps Dr. Owen going strong is how swiftly oncology is advancing. Immunotherapy for lung cancer, for example, has been, "transformative," he comments. Dr. Owen's team currently investigates new approaches to immunotherapy, some of which target a multitude of pathways. Combining immunotherapies has given researchers hope that they will overcome some cancer's ability to evade destruction by the immune system.
Innovations like theMednet are helping Dr. Owen and other physicians keep pace with larger quantities of research and information. "When I first read about theMednet, it seemed like a really interesting venue to bridge community and academic centers, but also different fields of oncology. There's so much expertise in the US, to not have that disseminated seemed like a huge limitation. Also, we [as physicians] hold ourselves to the impossible standard of trying to know everything. You always want to make the best decision for your patients, but when it comes to research, it's a never-ending effort. That's why tools like theMednet make things easier on the medical community."
Seeing patients make it through to the end of treatment makes the process of research and tough calls in patient care worth it: "some of the most memorable moments I have include exchanging cards with patients, seeing them go on vacation, and seeing them spend time with their loved ones. It's important to protect and hold onto the good times."
Additionally, Dr. Owen recommends getting, "as much experience as you can as a med student," to understand the specialty and medicine as a whole. He says the growing clinical demand in both in- and out-patient institutions is a concern for physicians in the US. The Association of American Medical Colleges, in partnership with IHS Markit, a global information company, released a 2019 reporting confirming, "the United States will see a shortage of up to nearly 122,000 physicians by 2032," due to demographic shifts, retiring physicians, and specialty demand. Dr. Owen laments, "it's something I wish I could change about medicine if I could. We're just going to need more caretakers."
Outside of work, Dr. Owen relies on the support of the community who understands the struggles and victories he and other oncologists go through. "I have a tight knit group of six other thoracic oncologists who are really supportive of both me and my work." He spends his free time with family, playing guitar, reading, and traveling—his recent trips were to Munich, Barcelona, and the Azores. While living in a small New York apartment during residency, Dr. Owen even tried his hand at brewing his own beer with a friend who had picked up the hobby in Israel, of which he says, "we tried to make IPAs and stouts, and in the worst case scenario, it's still beer!"