To mark the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we have been speaking to women pursuing a career in lung cancer. We caught up with Mamta Ruparel, Acting Consultant in Respiratory Medicine at University College London Hospitals to share her love of science and how she is carving out a rewarding career in lung cancer.
“To be honest, I was more interested in arts subjects early on. However, as my schooling progressed, I found I performed better in science and maths than English and Arts subjects and started to really love the logic associated with solving science and maths problems.
I was initially interested in psychology, and decided that psychiatry may be a good path to follow. I decided to apply for medicine around the time of my GCSEs. I changed schools for my A-Levels, and brought with me a double science GCSE. My new careers office advised me that this may not be competitive enough for a place in medical school, and that I should consider an alternative degree. Thankfully, I stuck to my guns and proved them wrong, obtaining offers from all the universities I applied to.
Relishing in respiratory
By the end of my six years in medical school, I had decided psychiatry wasn’t for me but rather respiratory medicine, and lung cancer, because of the variety of tasks in the daily job.
Science is a great subject for women to pursue! I love the logic associated with solving science and maths problems. It always feels worthwhile when you think you could be making a difference to people’s lives.Mamta Ruparel, Acting Consultant in Respiratory Medicine
Clinically, it is important to enjoy piecing together a diagnostic puzzle, hunting for the diagnosis and staging it. There is the opportunity for performing lots of practical procedures with bronchoscopy and endobronchial ultrasound, as well as pleural procedures.
Communication skills and being able to relate to people from all walks of life is especially important particularly as unfortunately lung cancer still involves patients having to deal with a lot of bad news.
Lung cancer research
From a research perspective, there is so much to do! Lung cancer currently has very poor outcomes. Although they are improving, progress is slow, and so there is much work to be done in early detection and screening as well the treatment of lung cancer, and this feels like a worthwhile field to spend time researching.
I led a Roy Castle funded project, which included doing qualitative research around what people know and want to know about cancer screening and lung cancer screening in particular. We then made a 5-minute film about the pros and cons of undergoing lung cancer screening to help people considering taking part, make an informed decision.
I have also participated in a project to map and quantify the psychological responses to lung cancer screening, and this culminated in the development of an online training module designed to help health care workers working in lung cancer screening minimise any psychological harms.
A bright future for women in science
Science is a great subject for women to pursue! It can be difficult. Trying to maintain a family life and be a mother has been tough at times, but I am lucky to be supported by my family. It always feels worthwhile when you think you could be making a difference to people’s lives.
I’m just in the process of publishing work from my PhD, whilst continuing to work clinically in lung cancer medicine. I’m hoping to embark on new research projects in the near future.
My ultimate aim is to use data from large studies to learn how best to maximise the benefits and minimise the harms from lung cancer screening, so that it can feasibly be implemented in the UK and start to save lives.”