Bioethics Blogs

LabTV: Curious About Cancer Patients’ Quality of Life

Katie Martinez struggled mightily with math in high school, but now she’s eagerly pursuing a biomedical research career that’s all about crunching numbers. So, what happened to Katie? Cancer is what happened, specifically being diagnosed with breast cancer when she was just a few years out of college.

While growing up in Alexandria, VA, Martinez had little interest in science or math, doing so poorly that she even had to enroll in some remedial classes. So, it wasn’t surprising that she chose to major in history when she went off to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. There, Martinez eventually became intrigued by the many ways in which “built environments”—the places and circumstances in which people live—can affect the health of both individuals and communities. Her interest in these social determinants of health led her to pursue a Master’s degree in Public Health at the University of California, Los Angeles.

But Martinez’s personal and career plans were then dramatically challenged by the discovery, at age 27, that she had breast cancer. As she went through a long, grueling series of surgical procedures and chemotherapy treatments, she saw firsthand how an individual’s race, class, insurance status, and other characteristics can influence his or her health and healthcare. This made her determined to find a way to make a difference in resolving health disparities, and she came to the conclusion that a career in research was the best way to do it.

Her first step? Buckle down and really learn math. Armed with her newfound math skills, Martinez went on to earn a PhD in Health Services Research and Policy from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where she focused on the relationship between patient-perceived quality of care and pain severity in individuals with cancer.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.