Dr. Anees Chagpar teaches Introduction to Breast Cancer on Coursera. She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Surgery, Yale School of Medicine, and the Assistant Director for Global Oncology at Yale Comprehensive Cancer Center. She is a breast surgical oncologist who participates in investigator-initiated and cooperative group clinical trials, as well as translational and clinical research. Her most recent groundbreaking work was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.
What led you to a career in medicine?
In fourth grade, I discovered that I was fascinated with anatomy when we dissected frogs in class and thought it was absolutely amazing. In the years to come, surgery was something I naturally gravitated towards. I love being a team player and surgery is something that requires you to work with a multidisciplinary team. I was interested in science, how the human body works, and had a desire to help people which became my passion for medicine.
Residency confirmed my love for surgery; specifically in regards to breast cancer. I loved that patients were generally healthy but had a diagnosis that shattered their world and surgeons were able to rebuild that world by removing the cancer. You get to spend a lot of time talking to your patients and really educating them about the disease process and reassuring them that everything was going to be alright.
Why did you create this course?
Creating the Introduction to Breast Cancer course was a wonderful experience and the feedback I’ve received from learners around the world has been incredible. Over 10,000 learners have signed up for the course, and they range from people who are in medical or nursing school to people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer or those who have loved ones with breast cancer. I’m really hoping this course will appeal to people from all walks of life.
Why is breast cancer awareness important?
I think it’s important for people to know that breast cancer is the number one malignancy impacting women in the United States, and one of the leading malignancies worldwide. 1 in 3 women in the US will be diagnosed with cancer within her lifetime, so it’s important to learn about the disease in a meaningful way.
Through the course, we eliminate some myths that are often propagated in the media and social media. Not only do we cover the importance of having a mammogram but we answer the questions: How does cancer really work? How is it diagnosed? How is it treated? By understanding breast cancer better people can breathe easier and the process may become less scary.
What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a similar career path?
It’s the most rewarding, humbling and gratifying experience you can have. I would recommend spending time shadowing a doctor, volunteering in a hospital, and pursuing international experiences like volunteering for organizations that do work around the world. Learn how healthcare is delivered in various parts of the world because it is very different. Ultimately, it’s such a rewarding career to be able to help people and to bring science and knowledge together to improve people’s lives. It is a phenomenal career and I would really encourage those who are interested to pursue it.2