ASTCT asked Nirali Shah, MD, MHSc questions about what it is like to be a woman in the transplantation and cellular therapy field in celebration of Women's History Month, March 2023.
What inspired you to enter the BMT and Cellular Therapy field?
I have always been drawn to hematologic malignancies and ended up in the cell therapy space as the field evolved, but originally had my primary interest vested in high-risk leukemia, transplant and optimizing outcomes to improve long-term durable remissions. In regard to HCT, the “whole body” and “whole person” approach and the idea of giving a patient someone else’s stem cells was just so inspirational and interesting — that I just knew that this was what I wanted to do. With this background, as CAR T-cells were evolving, being at the NCI, I had the opportunity to be involved as these early studies were just starting and with my experience and interest, focusing on cellular therapy and the intersection of HCT was a natural transition.
How do you inspire others?
I try to lead by example — I love what I do and am continuously in awe of our patients and families who go through so much. I make sure that I prioritize the needs of our patients and what is important to them and use their feedback to help set our research goals and establish future directions. I try to help my trainees always keep the big picture in mind, so that they remain motivated in their efforts.
Which living person do you most admire?
The parents and siblings of children with cancer. I don’t know how they do it. What they are going through and everything that has to be done to support their children really gives perspective.
What does it mean to you to be a woman in this field?
On a day-to-day basis, this is not something that I think much about. However, as I’ve advanced in my career, I have continued to find the discrepancy in female representation in leadership positions. I think as a woman I bring very unique strengths and insights to my career, the care that I provide and to mentorship. I strive to see more women have a seat at the table where decisions are being made.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement comes from raising my 3 children, while also advancing science and taking care of my patients. I started my fellowship as a new mom with a 9-month-old (he is now 14 years old and entering high-school next year). My first day on the oncology ward—I had 3 different parents flat out ask me if I had kids within the first 10 minutes of my meeting them as a brand new first year fellow. They said that they could tell by the way that I talked with them and their children that I had a different approach – and it was then that I realized that being a mom made me a stronger physician. As a parent, I cannot fathom what our pediatric oncology parents go through—and it makes me work harder to be sure that I am doing everything I can to improve outcomes for children with cancer.
Who are your heroes in real life?
Childhood cancer survivors and hearing their journey and how they continue to give back to the community is really inspirational.
Tags: womens history, Women's History Month