Journeys in medicine

What it’s like to specialize in hematology and oncology

Kristen Wendell, DO, a podiatry student turned hematologist-oncologist in Illinois, combines her unique expertise with her passion for research.


When she was young, Kristen Wendell, DO, was interested in becoming an orthopedic surgeon. But she also wanted to be a mother one day, and she thought becoming a podiatrist would allow her to work as a surgeon in sports medicine but also have a little more flexibility.

However, while in podiatry school, she realized that she was more interested in her patients’ other non-surgical issues. She then decided to pursue medical school, and specifically became interested in becoming an osteopathic oncologist. Eventually, Dr. Wendell attended Midwestern University/Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine (MWU/CCOM).

Today, Dr. Wendell is a board certified hematologist and oncologist working in a community practice in Niles, Illinois. She is the recipient of the James R. & Helen D. Russell Research Grant and has presented her research on breast cancer and survivorship at several national conferences.

Dr. Wendell has a personal interest in breast cancer, colorectal cancer, benign hematologic conditions, survivorship and women’s health.

Following is an edited Q&A.

Kristen Wendell, DO

What led you to pursue osteopathic medicine?

Once I decided to pursue medical school, I applied to only osteopathic medical schools. I looked at a DO as “something more” and felt that osteopathic medicine encompassed all of medicine.

What does your typical day-to-day schedule look like as a hematologist and oncologist?

I mostly work in a community practice in a somewhat hybrid model with residents and fellows. I start my day doing rounds on hospital inpatients. I see patients from my office who are admitted and also any new consultations. Then I go to my office to see patients in clinic for the remainder of the day. There, we are seeing patients starting on new chemotherapy regimens, continuing current regimens, managing therapy side effects, reviewing scans and evaluating laboratory tests.

How did you know hematology and oncology were your callings?

A family friend who had breast cancer helped me obtain an internship in breast cancer research. Through that experience, I was able to attend breast tumor boards. I was in awe of the knowledge demonstrated by the medical oncologists and the fact that they were the “quarterbacks” of such complicated cases.

The family members really looked to their medical oncologist for advice and had a trust in them I had not seen before. I wanted to emulate that same relationship with my patients. I knew that this was what I wanted to do at that moment.

Tell us more about your research and how you balance it with a busy clinic schedule.

I was very involved in research during my internal medicine residency and also during my hematology and oncology fellowship. Most of my work is in breast cancer and survivorship. I currently work with residents at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital (ALGH) as a mentor. One of our ideas in early stages is to look at full body scanning as a detection method.

We also enroll our patients in clinical trials through U.S. Oncology. Research can be as much or as little as you make it in your chosen career path. Being in an academic center would likely open more doors for research just by the nature of the practice, but there are always ways to get involved in research no matter where you practice.

You completed your fellowship at Loyola University Medical Center (LUMC). What are some differences you have noticed going from a fellowship at an academic hospital to working at a private practice with ties to the local community hospital?

ALGH is a hybrid hospital, so it offers a nice balance between community and academia. At ALGH, we have many patients who are elderly with advanced cancers and doing very well. There is a wide range of health care for many of the patients in this area, and patients are very involved in their care.

The patient cases are complex in both academia and community, but in different ways. In academia, we saw several patients who came from the community for particularly rare cancers.

Is there anything else about hematology and oncology that osteopathic residents and students should know before applying for fellowship?

You should focus on what makes you unique when applying for fellowship. It’s important for programs to see that you have a vision for what you want to do and a plan for where you want to go in this field. The fields of hematology and oncology are becoming extremely specialized, so it is ideal to have exceptional training in the area where you see yourself practicing. Patients want to know they are in the hands of someone experienced in their field.

If an osteopathic medical student is looking to participate in research, typically the best way to find these opportunities is through one’s medical school or while doing rotations in the hospital with preceptors conducting research.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

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