WAGMC Deputy Centre Leader, Lorna Awo Renner, MB ChB, MPH, FRCPCH, FGCPS, of the University of Ghana Medical School, in Accra, Ghana, has received the 2021 International Women Who Conquer Cancer Mentorship Award. Dr. Renner is a lecturer at the University and Head of the Paediatric Oncology Unit at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital.
This award recognizes extraordinary female leaders in oncology and role models who have excelled as a mentor and have demonstrated outstanding commitment to the professional development of women colleagues.
“This recognition means a lot to me,” Dr. Renner said. “Not only to me, but I think it is more important for the up-and-coming young women working in cancer in Ghana.” Dr. Renner sees this award as an aspiration for colleagues to reach for, and for them to realize that the effort they put into their career is appreciated.
Dr. Renner began as a mentee in the Paediatric Oncology Ward at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh, Scotland, under the mentorship of Hamish Wallace, MD, now clinical director of the Wallace-Kelsey Research Foundation. Dr. Wallace was a major influence on Dr. Renner during her time in Scotland.
“He helped me build a solid foundation in pediatric oncology, and he helped inculcate high ethical standards into my practice, attention to detail, and devotion to duty,” Dr. Renner said.
Upon her return to Ghana after training, Janet Neequaye, MD, professor at the University of Ghana Medical School, helped Dr. Renner land on her feet. “She assisted me to continue building up the practice and to develop my academic career.” Dr. Renner also made special mention of Tim Eden, MD, professor of paediatric oncology in the United Kingdom, who she continues to look up to for inspiration.
Paying it Forward
Dr. Renner describes mentoring and the ability to positively impact the career of junior colleagues “extremely fulfilling.”
“Mentoring others is something that I take on readily,” she said. This includes both physicians and other members of the oncology care team.
Dr. Renner believes in supporting a genuine interest in the career process that can help contribute to successful teamwork in the future. Currently, Dr. Renner is a mentor to several young women. These mentees are in a Paediatric Oncology Fellowship Programme that Dr. Renner started 3 years ago under the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons. “A source of pride for me this year has been our first graduate from the Programme, a female. Such achievements spur me on to do more,” Dr. Renner said.
Through her work with mentees, Dr. Renner hopes to help fight some of the disparities for women in oncology, particularly in Ghana. “Working in a lower-middle income country, there are several disparities in the health sector, particularly when it comes to pediatric oncology,” Dr. Renner said. One problem in particular is financing cancer treatments for children, as Ghana’s National Health Insurance Scheme does not cover cancer treatments other than for breast and cervical cancers.1 “It is a huge travesty of injustice that we continue to bring to the attention of policymakers,” she said.
Through her work with mentees, Dr. Renner hopes to help fight some of the disparities for women in oncology, particularly in Ghana.
There is also a shortage of pediatric oncologists, with only five in the country. To tackle this, Dr. Renner continues to mentor oncologists and other members of the oncology care team to keep them motivated and supported.
Lastly, Dr. Renner noted that while advances have been made, there is still occasionally male chauvinism in health care in Ghana. Dr. Renner explained that female oncologists may encounter a male colleague who would prefer to “go it alone elsewhere” rather than build a team under a female leader. However, mentoring young or early-career oncologists can help fight tackle these issues.
To help fellow health care workers overcome disparities and grow in their career, Dr. Renner said that providing support for them is key.
“Play a role in building up the careers of other members of the team as you will be able to achieve more together. Then, they will be more accepting of your leadership later, once they are convinced of your good intentions from your past actions,” she said.
Dr. Renner advises young oncologists to maintain contact with colleagues along their career path to continually explore professional collaborations in future. “Collaborative projects will open more avenues for your progression and lead to greater, hopefully more fulfilling achievements.”
— Meagan Foy