While Tammy Young, M.D., chose medicine as her life’s work, her specialty fields of hematology and oncology more or less chose her. It has led to a career that has proven both successful and fulfilling.
“Cancer patients are the most remarkable people,” said Young. “They are resilient and have an amazing love for life.”
Young grew up in Vicksburg, and found she enjoyed the sciences, especially biology. However, she had a desire to help others, which led her to study medicine.
Young attended the University of Mississippi School of Medicine, and completed her internship and residency at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) in Jackson. While completing her training at UMMC, Young found interacting with cancer suffers both satisfying and challenging. With that, Young chose oncology and hematology as her specialty areas, and completed her fellowship at UMMC.
Young joined the staff of Jackson Oncology Associates straight out of medical school, and she has been a staff member now for seven years. Her drive to finish medical school (the fellowship added another three years to her academic career) was good “practice” for her work — her typical day spans 12 hours and includes rounds at Mississippi Baptist Medical Center and seeing patients at the clinic.
Young said her patients run the gamut — from a 32-year-old woman suffering from breast cancer to an 80-year-old man dying of lung cancer and every kind of case in between. Many she can help; others she can only comfort. However, her passion for her work and the reward she gets from her patients sustains her.
“It’s very challenging as far as my schedule goes,” she admitted, “but I love what I do. When I see patients, I get lots of questions. ‘How are you?’ ‘How’s your family?’ Here they are, sometimes terminally ill, hair lost from chemotherapy, and they’re asking me about my life. They are simply incredible.”
When asked about her most significant professional achievement, Young said, “This is my highlight, what I’m doing now. When you choose a career, you want it to be doing something that you will find rewarding for the rest of your life. I enjoy every day. I love taking care of my patients. Many we can cure; unfortunately, many we can only comfort, serving more or less as hospice. But, I love coming to work every day. It’s just very satisfying.”
While medical school is behind her, Young definitely has not stopped being a student. She said her field requires lifelong learning, especially with all of the new treatments and technology that seem to emerge every day. To stay abreast of the latest happenings, she spends a lot of her time interacting with the nine-physician staff at Jackson Oncology Associates, participates in online discussions, stays active with the American Society of Clinical Oncology and attends conferences, especially the annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.
And, the news she gets is for the most part good. Young said chemotherapy has largely become an outpatient procedure, thanks to more research and better therapies that target cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone. There are new chemotherapies that block the blood vessels that feed cancer cells that are much more sophisticated and successful. With these new targeted, less invasive therapies, patients suffer less from side effects, and improved medicines such as those that fight nausea also help patients cope with treatment better than in the past.
Young said the most important characteristic an oncologist needs is determination and commitment.
“It takes persistence,” she said. “You must have a love for learning. It’s a long road through medical school and then the fellowship. And like I said before, the learning never stops. You have to have a lot of drive to persevere.”
While her days are full, Young finds time for her outside loves and interests. A lot of her “downtime” is spent with her two sons, ages seven and two. She also loves to run, which she says is good for her both physically and mentally.
“I also love to travel, but I just don’t have much time for that now,” she said with a laugh.
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at firstname.lastname@example.org.