Hamilton Health Sciences cancer surgeon drawn to hometown excellence

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Hamilton’s reputation as a centre of excellence for health care and evidence-based medicine has lured a new cancer surgeon home.

Dr. Nicole Hodgson, 34, joined Hamilton Health Sciences’ Juravinski Cancer Centre as a surgical oncologist in July. Hodgson will treat all types of cancer patients but has a focus on breast cancer and melanoma.

The Cayuga native just returned to Canada after completing a two-year fellowship at the University of Miami in surgical oncology. Hodgson, who obtained her undergraduate degree from McMaster and medical degree from the University of Ottawa, secured one of only 36 fellowships in North America given each year by the Society of Surgical Oncologists. She also has a master’s degree in clinical epidemiology and biostatistics.

Hodgson said she wanted to return to Canada, and in particular Hamilton, because she will have the opportunity to practise medicine in a health-care system she admires, work with renowned cancer experts, and be involved in epidemiologic research and education.

Patient-centred care in a supportive team environment is a key focus for Hodgson.

“I enjoy the fact that I have time to meet with patients, discuss their options and address their concerns in a multidisciplinary environment,” she said. “Devoting extra time to improving their comfort level and communicating with them is extremely important.”

Dr. Mike Marcaccio, chief of surgery at Hamilton Health Sciences, said Hodgson’s appointment completes a team of oncologists that are second to none in providing stellar care and treatment to breast cancer patients. Hodgson is one of the few surgeons in the city who will be 90 per cent focused on oncology, he added.

“In collaboration with our medical and radiation oncologists, we have been working to develop a comprehensive breast cancer system for the region,” Marcaccio said. “This includes the integration of research, education and treatment. Until now, we haven’t had someone with a principal focus on oncology. We’ve filled a major gap in our surgical leadership in the breast cancer area.”

Hodgson is interested in collaborating with Dr. Mark Levine, Dr. Tim Whelan, Dr. George Browman (who recently moved to Calgary) and other members of the Breast Cancer Site Group, surgeons and Clinical Trials Group in Hamilton.

She said one area of research interest is the higher incidence of advanced breast cancers in ethnic minority populations. “Ethnic differences are quite prevalent in the Miami Hispanic population,” she said. “We know that the Hamilton area also has a lot of ethnic minorities. I’m interested in targeting some of these groups for research so that we can facilitate and improve their care. We know that there are language, social and religious differences, for example, that may add to a delay in seeking treatment.”

She’s also interested in becoming a role model for young medical students, especially young women, who might not have considered a career in surgery.

“I’m looking forward to interacting with students when they are at an early stage in their training,” said Hodgson. “I hope we can encourage more women to enter surgical subspecialties.”