“Choose the right projects and you will always love your work”

Françoise Mornex, Université Claude Bernard, Lyon, France, made history this year when she became the first woman to receive the Heine H. Hansen Award, in recognition of her contribution to the field of lung cancer. She talks about her passion for her work and teaching and keeping the flame of interest alight.

Professor of Oncology at the Université Claude Bernard, specialising in radiotherapy and chemoradiotherapy strategies for lung cancer, Françoise Mornex did not set out to work in lung cancer. “I did not choose a specific career. I knew I wanted to treat patients with cancer, because I had seen the positive effects of treatment in this area and there seemed to be a greater chance for curing the disease or alleviating symptoms than in other disease areas I had worked in. I also thought that I would like to be involved in research programmes. Above all, I already had a passion for teaching and I knew that this would have to be a part of my career somehow.” Mornex seems to have just followed the opportunities that came along and made the most out of them. For this, winning the Heine H. Hansen Award – which is annually bestowed by ESMO and the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer – came as a complete surprise to her. “It is very pleasing to be acknowledged and selected by my peers, among many other candidates. I was lucky enough to meet Heine on several occasions and really admired him.” Being the first woman to win the award is gratifying, but in the end it is about being honoured for your work. “It is very satisfying to see women accessing this level of award, because a woman’s career journey is still often more difficult than a man’s is.”

The key to continued enjoyment of work is to choose the right projects. Mornex considers that her work has become more and more rewarding with each passing year. “The trick is to identify and select the tasks you like”, she said. “The pleasure of communication and compassion with patients, the satisfaction of curing a patient, the excitement of research in the lab, the sometimes tedious but ultimately exalting requirements of clinical trials, and the sense of achievement when you find a way to clearly communicate your message in teaching. These are the pleasures of my work.” Alongside her academic achievements – with recognition, appreciation and respect for her work – the relationships she has established with her patients and colleagues and the young oncology residents who look to her as a mentor are crucial in keeping alive her love for her job.

Despite her love for her work, there are a few things she wishes the younger Mornex had known. “I wish someone had told me earlier that ‘making it known’ is just as important as ‘know-how’, because you are the only person who will champion your cause. Other things I would go back to change include having a better understanding of the difference between efficiency versus efficacy, prioritising clinical research and keeping more time for life outside work.” She has some final words of advice for women in oncology. “Know that everything is possible, never limit your dreams and choices, act as a professional, and be true to yourself. For every event or opportunity, you think is appropriate, go for it, do it and do it well. This will be recognised and acknowledged.”

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