Sept. 9, 2022 — Growing up in rural Wyoming, Kate Hitchcock, M.D., Ph.D., encountered veterinarians more often than physicians.
“I had a great public school education and was always interested in science and biology, and I thought I wanted to be a vet at first,” said Hitchcock, an assistant professor in the department of radiation oncology who completed her residency training at UF. “But I quickly realized that my interests were more on the human side and that being able to explain a patient’s situation to them was more natural for me. However, with doctors being quite scarce around me, there wasn’t an obvious path for how I would get there myself.”
Now, decades later, Hitchcock was recently appointed to a National Clinical Trials Network committee tasked with improving diversity and inclusion efforts for national leaders in oncology research. She credits her experiences exploring the reaches beyond the Cowboy State with leading her to a successful career helping patients in the clinic and the lab.
Hitchcock’s less traditional route to medical school took her from landlocked Wyoming to the middle of the ocean. She enlisted in the U.S. Navy during her undergraduate studies to pay for medical school, spending a decade working as a nuclear engineer and driving aircraft carriers.
Many of the skills she acquired as a Naval lieutenant have carried into her career in medicine, including working effectively with teams and problem-solving.
“When you’re in the middle of the ocean, there’s a very finite body of resources you have to solve very complicated problems,” she said. “You may not have access to the part or expertise you need, but that problem has to get solved. And so I kind of got over my intimidation at grappling with technical problems I had never experienced before and learned to just dig in and do what I could and figure it out. Learning that has been super helpful, both in clinical medicine and in research.”
The opportunity to sit down and have impactful conversations with her patients drew Hitchcock to explore a career in radiation oncology. During her time as a UF faculty member, she has proved herself as a leader and team player among colleagues at the UF Health Cancer Center. Her experiences in the Navy and as a member of the LGBTQ+ community made her particularly eager to assist in increasing diversity among oncology research leaders across the U.S.
The National Clinical Trials Network comprises researchers at academic centers and in private practice who drive cancer treatment protocols. However, its current leadership is not reflective of the makeup of the U.S. population, and the committee Hitchcock is part of plans to implement suggestions and changes that would promote diversity and inclusion in these roles.
“We are all interested in finding very specific ways for people in previously underrepresented groups to be successful,” she said. “We know it’s not that there’s a lack of people out there who want to do it, it’s that there are barriers for them. I’m excited about what we can accomplish, starting with tracking representation within the network and looking at what other businesses and institutions are doing well.”