Last year we invited Dr. Brian K. McNeil, the Vice Chair of the Department of Urology and the Urology Residency Program Director at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University, to join our panel of oncologists at the National Conference. When we learned Dr. McNeill was unavailable for this year, we moved to the next best thing, a quick Q&A for the blog so we could keep his voice in our mix until the next event opportunity.
Tell us a little about how you got your start and what made focus on uro-oncology?
Dr. McNeil: I entered Morehouse College as an impressionable 16-year-old after losing my father to prostate cancer a year prior. I wasn't quite sure of which path I wanted to pursue but I had a recurring dream about working in a lab to re-engineer the human immune system to better fight viruses. This led me to pursue medicine as a career. My exposure to the field of urology during one of my first clinical rotations of third year sealed my fate. I felt at home with the team and wanted to work in the service of families like mine who had lost loved ones to prostate cancer. One of the chief residents at the time gave me a copy of the "Black Hawk Down" book and nicknamed me the "Navy Seal of Urology." I became focused on a career as a urologic oncologist soon after.
We know you are committed to working with people who are underserved when it comes to healthcare, such as communities of color as well as the trans community. What do you think the US healthcare system can do to improve the quality of care for diverse populations?
Dr. McNeil:There are several things. Further studies of health care disparities and why they occur could lead to better patient outcomes. Better recruitment and retention of individuals from diverse backgrounds can lead to better culturally sensitive care for those at risk. Furthermore, targeted campaigns geared to communities at risk can help better manage health care maladies in communities of color and others who identify somewhere along the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.
What’s a misconception about trans healthcare you would like to correct?
Dr. McNeil: There are too many misconceptions to count. One of the things I would encourage others to do is to temporarily suspend your bias and view someone, no matter how they identify, as a fellow human who needs help. Some patients that I have seen were initially worried about whether or not they would be judged. I do my best to assure them that my team and I are here to help.
As you know, Cancer and Careers’ focus is that delicate intersection where a diagnosis meets employment. I know our audience would be grateful to hear your perspective on work after a diagnosis. What have you seen to be the greatest challenges or barriers for your patients navigating work/looking for work after a diagnosis?
Dr. McNeil: The issue of disclosure is one of the most nuanced decisions one must make. Some feel uncomfortable sharing their diagnosis with family members who they love. One can only imagine the challenges they face, sharing it with those who they work with. Patients who have what some would consider "good insurance” typically have an easier time sharing the news and requesting time off for treatment and follow up. Patients who are a part of what some refer to as the "gig economy" do not have the same safety net and feel undue strain to continue to work because they may not be entitled to paid leave. This is one of the greatest challenges for patients navigating work after a diagnosis.
*Note from CAC: Prior to disclosing your diagnosis at work, we always recommend considering all the angles, and especially your own unique situation and needs as well as any legal considerations. To help you be as informed as possible before making a decision, check out our articles on Sharing the News and visit the Legal & Financial and Back to Work After Cancer sections of our website.
And from that, what do you envision forward movement looks like?
Dr. McNeil: Forward movement looks like greater awareness among patients, their loved ones and employers. With greater awareness, all parties will be better equipped with tools to ultimately ensure the best outcomes for patients.
Where are the opportunities to provide more support and resources?
Dr. McNeil: There is so much information available online for patients with newly diagnosed cancer. I would suggest that anyone wanting to learn more about cancer visit the American Cancer Society. For those dealing with someone with prostate cancer or other urologic cancers, please visit the Urology Care Foundation website for patient and family resources.