Science-Minded Parents Encouraged Medical Physicist to Pave Her Own Path

By Amanda Sangster - February 01, 2023


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, medical physics 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 Jasmine Graham
Jasmine Graham, PhD, is a medical physicist and assistant member in the Department of Radiation Oncology. As the first Black woman to graduate with a PhD in applied physics from the University of South Florida, Graham joined Moffitt Cancer Center in 2019 after completing a postdoctoral research fellowship and a medical physics residency at UF Health Cancer Center–Orlando Health. Her clinical interests include applying medical physics to personalize and adapt state-of-the-art radiation therapy for each patient and ensuring the safety and quality of radiation planning and delivery procedures. Graham’s research interests include investigating extractable quantitative medical imaging features as imaging biomarkers to adapt radiation therapy and predict outcomes and to advance image-guided adaptive radiation therapy using novel technologies.

What made you want to go into medicine/research as a career?
I was heavily influenced by my parents, who both graduated from college with degrees in science. My father majored in biology and is a chemist, and my mother is a chemical engineer who is now working in environmental engineering. At the young age of 7, I made up my mind to pursue a career in the medical field. At that time, I thought I would become an obstetrician/gynecologist and deliver babies, but that aspiration changed as I was exposed to other careers. It was at South Carolina State University, my undergraduate institution and a historically Black college/university, that I was introduced to the field of medical physics. I changed my major to physics, and the rest is history.

What are your research and clinical interests?
My clinical interests are in stereotactic radiosurgery, and my research interests are in adaptive radiotherapy.

What are you working on right now that you are most excited about?
I recently published a feasibility study of hippocampal avoidance whole brain radiotherapy using our MRI-guided linear accelerator. This study opens the possibility of radiomic analysis and potential adaptive treatments to metastatic lesions based on disease response. Previously, brain metastases treatment focused on increasing survival following treatment instead of improving quality of life following diagnosis. We hope our findings offer a newer approach for these patients that can transform their quality of life.

What do you see as the future of cancer care?
I see the future of cancer care as a highly interdisciplinary effort. I believe that patients will continue living longer as our treatments become more personalized.

What is one of the biggest challenges in your field?
In my opinion, one of the biggest challenges in medical physics is establishing a healthy work-life balance, especially in a busy cancer center like ours where we treat so many patients.

What comes to mind when you hear the term “Superwoman Syndrome”?
I immediately think of women who are attempting to be 100% at their jobs and at home. They’re taking on extra roles at work and working the extended hours while attempting to be 100% at home also.

Have you ever experienced the pressures of Superwoman Syndrome? If so, how have you overcome those pressures?
Yes, every day. I overcome these pressures by prioritizing tasks and valuing my time. I know my limitations, and I’m honest with others about what I can and can’t do. I also try not to compare myself to others (women and men) and realize when I need to ask for help.

What advice would you give a colleague about balancing work responsibilities, personal responsibilities and self-care?
First, remember that you are valuable. Second, know that your time is valuable – choose wisely where you spend it. Third, know that your worth is not defined by the quantity of work. Always do your best. Finally, ask for help when you need it. There’s a balance between having everything done exactly as you want it to be done (which usually means you do it yourself) and accepting good help.

Who is the person who encouraged you the most in your career and how did they impact you?
There are two people who encouraged me the most during my career. They would be my mother and father. Whenever I felt like something was too difficult, it was my mother who encouraged me to finish strong and do my personal best. And my father always encouraged me to “run my race,” which basically means to focus on my own path and not compare myself to others.

Have you ever had a mentor or been a mentor?
Yes, I have both had mentors and been a mentor. I have had mentors at every step of my journey to this point and even today. The biggest lessons I’ve taken from mentorship is the value of mentorship itself and the value of getting an outside perspective.

What advice do you wish someone had given you at the beginning of your career?
You have more time now than you realize. Use it wisely.

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