I grew up in Putnam County, in upstate New York, which was a fairly rural area at the time. In those days, my family thought that nursing would be the best choice for a woman considering going into medicine, but I entertained thoughts of becoming a doctor. At 16, I started working as an assistant to the general practitioner in town. I was a pretty quick study and before I knew it he had me developing x-rays, running blood tests, and administering electrocardiograms.
Coming from an Irish Catholic family, I was expected to attend a small local Catholic college. My mother, the only person in our family to attend college, convinced me to aim higher. My choice of Barnard College in Manhattan proved to be a bit of a culture shock, but I found it exhilarating. In the early 1970s admission to medical schools was quite competitive. To hedge my bets, I decided to double major in premed and the classics.
Throughout college, I had a number of different jobs, one of which was as a biology teaching assistant. This began my love affair with teaching. As incongruous as it may sound, while I was president of the student government at Barnard, I was also a Columbia cheerleader — just so I could get into football games for free.
In 1974, I was accepted to Cornell Medical College. The first two years focused on didactic training, but I really thrived in the third and fourth years, when the emphasis switched to clinical care. Once I was exposed to the surgical specialties, I knew I'd found my field. I liked the physical application of medical knowledge that surgery provides, the uncompromising importance of technical precision, the ultimate responsibility placed in the hands of the surgeon, and the collaboration with the entire operating room team. My professional passion was further stoked when I was exposed to obstetrics/gynecology and the developing field of gynecologic oncology.
After a rotation with the Gynecologic Oncology Service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, the chief, John Lewis, encouraged me to apply for a surgical fellowship with his group. I received the fellowship and began working with Dr. Lewis, who was extraordinarily tough. The prouder he was of you, the harder he would push. He famously referred to his style as “polishing by abrasion,” which certainly was a very effective approach for me. At the same time, I learned a great deal about clinical care from the other attendings, but most especially from the bedside care of the nursing team.
At the end of my fellowship, in 1984, I was offered the chance to build a gynecologic oncology service at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital Center on Manhattan's West Side. My responsibilities included delivering quality gynecologic oncology care to an underserved and often uninsured population, while developing an academic gynecologic cancer service with teaching responsibilities for house staff and medical students. In 2000, I left St. Luke's for Bassett Healthcare in Cooperstown, New York. There, I organized a multidisciplinary cancer program and established gynecologic oncology services for this remote ten-county area of central New York.
“There are large cancer care needs waiting to be met in the greater New York region, and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Regional Care Network, working in collaboration with local communities, is perfectly positioned to meet those needs.”
Maureen Killackey, Deputy Physician-in-Chief
When I was offered the opportunity to come back to Memorial Sloan-Kettering as Medical Director of the Center's Regional Care Network, I was thrilled. For me, the most immediate selling point was that it allowed me to be back at Memorial. If you are passionate about cancer and cancer care, there is no better place.
Eighty percent of cancer care in this country is delivered in the community — not at comprehensive cancer centers like Memorial Sloan-Kettering. Our regional network allows us to provide Memorial Sloan-Kettering's highest quality of care at four locations in New York — Commack, Rockville Centre, and Hauppauge on Long Island, and Sleepy Hollow in Westchester County — and one location in New Jersey, at Basking Ridge. Network patient visits account for 16 to 18 percent of all Memorial Sloan-Kettering patient visits.
I make it a point to be at each of these locations at least twice a month. I want to show that we truly value the work that is being done, and to make certain that the level of care is consistent throughout the network. It's important for me to learn what issues need to be addressed by physically being present.
In collaboration with Mary McCabe, Director of Memorial Sloan-Kettering's Cancer Survivorship Initiative, we are developing our survivorship resources in the network. As patients are successfully treated, we want a plan to return their care to their communities, and most community physicians welcome the support and resources that Memorial Sloan-Kettering provides. We're establishing a pilot program using nurse practitioners to focus on post-treatment issues for our breast and gynecologic patients, and to find them a physician in their own communities to manage their post-treatment care.
There are large cancer care needs waiting to be met in the greater New York region, and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Regional Care Network, working in close collaboration with local communities, is perfectly positioned to meet those needs.
Last updated: January 9, 2008