Mother’s Colon Cancer Diagnosis Inspires Oncology Career

By Sara Bondell - April 04, 2022


Women faculty at Moffitt Cancer Center come from different backgrounds and cultures around the globe. Their areas of research and clinical care span the entire cancer continuum, including clinical science and trials, basic science, epidemiology, health outcomes, integrated mathematical oncology, biostatistics and more. Community involvement, mentorship and inclusion among faculty are foundational, and we celebrate the essential roles women play in making a difference at the cancer center and in society.

Meet Dr. Vania Phuoc.

Vania Phuoc, M.D., is an assistant member in the Department of Medical Oncology at Moffitt at Wesley Chapel. She received her medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and completed an Internal Medicine Residency at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Phuoc then moved to Tampa, where she completed a Hematology/Oncology Fellowship at the University of South Florida and Moffitt Cancer Center. She joined Moffitt after completion of her fellowship. Her clinical areas of interest are benign and malignant hematology and breast cancers.

What made you want to go into medicine as a career?

After losing my father at 16 years old, my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer when I was 18 years old. Those major events changed my priorities and direction in life overnight. My mother’s diagnosis was my first introduction into the world of oncology, and I ended up doing an internship with her medical oncologist. I remember so vividly the feeling I had walking away from my first day of that internship after witnessing all of the patient encounters. It’s cheesy to say, but it felt like a calling. I remember telling my friends that day this is what I have to do, what I’m meant to do with my life.

Who is the person who encouraged you the most and why?

My father has always been my greatest role model. Originally a cardiovascular surgeon in Vietnam turned plastic surgeon in his later years, he approached patient care with utter selflessness, dedication and compassion. Even though he passed away when I was young, he serves as my constant inspiration. In what little time we had together, he taught me to never settle, to advocate for myself and to pursue what I’m truly passionate about in life. I continue to realize and read more into the depth of his life lessons with each passing day. 

What are your research and clinical interests?

Patient care has always been my greatest passion. One of the benefits of being in a hybrid, academic type setting at one of Moffitt’s satellite locations is having the time to get to know my patients well and educate them in great detail on their condition. I do see a wider variety of disease states than a traditional academic position, but I have a particular interest in benign and malignant hematology. One of my current pursuits is building a formal benign hematology clinical program at Moffitt in order to provide more well-rounded, comprehensive care for our cancer patients and the surrounding community.

Have you ever felt misunderstood because of a difference in cultural communication styles?

Many times. I had a traditional Vietnamese upbringing. I was raised with a deeply ingrained focus on filial piety, obedience, respect and somewhat antiquated gender roles. Be it nature versus nurture, I struggled over the years with my quiet, reserved demeanor. I’ve received every critique being called timid, weak, cold, aloof, etc. As I’ve gained confidence in my sense of self and abilities, the opposite issue can occur where I can be called intimidating when I assert myself. Finding my voice remains a balancing act, and I continue to work on genuine, clear communication in my professional growth.

What comes to mind when you hear the term “imposter syndrome”?

When I hear the term “imposter syndrome,” I think of a far too common feeling of self-doubt or inadequacy many high-achieving, professional women experience, but only few speak openly about this. It can be difficult for these same women to admit to vulnerability in fear of seeming weak, and imposter syndrome can disproportionately affect minority women who face culture-specific expectations and societal judgments.

Have you ever experienced a feeling of imposter syndrome?

Absolutely. I self-admittedly am a meticulous perfectionist. While this type of work ethic served me well overall, it can be a double-edged sword. I often vacillate between confidence and uncertainty in my abilities, and I can feel a deep sense of guilt or shame with any self-perceived failure.

How do you overcome it to move your career and life forward?

Throughout the years, I’ve learned to accept and recognize the feeling, breathe, take a step back and try to look at the situation in a more objective manner. Listing facts about what is truly going on, filtering out the negative noise in my mind and reframing my thoughts help me to process the experience. Definitely not foolproof, I do still encounter the feeling of imposter syndrome frequently, but these steps help me move onward more easily and continue growing as a person.

Were you required to do any of your work remotely during the recent pandemic?

The pandemic dramatically increased utilization of telehealth visits, and Zoom has become a very regular part of my everyday clinical practice. For many patients with conditions that require primarily monitoring of blood work and do not necessarily need regular full physical examinations, I’m able to order any tests needed that they can have completed at a local lab provider. We can then review results in detail during their virtual visit. Patients love the convenience, and we’re able to extend our services to those who live in every corner of the state.

Did working remotely affect how you delivered care?

It took some time getting used to doing Zoom visits and learning new patient care delivery techniques in a remote world. When you’re meeting a patient for the first time over video chat, you must adapt to establish that same level of rapport, trust and depth in the patient-physician relationship as if they were sitting in front of you in clinic. Keeping the emphasis on ensuring the patient feels seen and heard allows for high-quality care even in the virtual setting. Patients also love how you can share your screen with them, point out different lab results in real time, type out things and teach them about their condition in a more innovative way than traditional clinic visits.

What does self-care mean to you?

Self-care for me means allowing myself to take a moment, reflect and acknowledge what I’m experiencing or potentially struggling with at that time. Recognizing what I need and then acting upon that helps bring a greater balance or personal sense of fulfillment back into my life.

What do you do to unwind or to recharge?

Yoga, cooking and baking, regular date nights with my husband, and spending time with family and friends help me clear my mind and refocus.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Listen to your gut. Be true to yourself. Keep your focus on what’s genuinely important.

Contact the Author

Sara Bondell Medical Science Writer More Articles


Most Popular