The only female oncologist who works with Intermountain Healthcare in Weber and Davis counties, Dr. Namita Chittoria, will be moving to a position in Salt Lake with a different network.
Chittoria’s last day with Intermountain is July 31.
Female patients in the area say that they like the option to receive care from a female physician, especially for cancers unique to women, like breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
One of Chittoria’s patients, Jana Wamsley, a resident of Hooper, will not be able to follow Chittoria to Salt Lake. Her insurance doesn’t cover Chittoria’s new clinic.
In addition to the insurance issue, Wamsley said that if her cancer ever recurred, she might not feel well enough to travel to Salt Lake. During the worst parts of her treatment, she said it was hard enough to drive 20 minutes to get to her appointments.
Wamsley said she’ll miss receiving care from Chittoria.
“I think the biggest thing is just that a female can understand how important your breasts are to you, or how important your ovaries are to you or all those parts that men don’t really get,” Wamsley said. “Losing hair — that was the biggest thing ... I was really upset about losing my hair.”
Wamsely said her husband told a male acquaintance about her hair loss, and he responded, “Well, it’s just hair, it’ll grow back, at least she’s OK.”
“But to me it was a huge deal that I had to lose my hair,” Wamsley said, “and I think a female understands that better than a male does.”
Wamsley is participating in a cancer medication study, and a male researcher attended her appointments with Chittoria.
“Discussing a lot of my side effects was a lot harder with him,” Wamsley said. “And I had to tell him because he had to know for the study, but it was definitely more difficult to tell him.”
Wamsely said she has a female friend who is receiving ongoing cancer treatment. This friend sees a male physician and is very happy with her care.
But Wamsley has had a different experience visiting a male physician. In a brief experience with the first doctor she saw, he was dismissive of some of Wamsley’s suggestions to incorporate integrative care into her treatment.
Her experience with Dr. Chittoria was different.
“My first appointment with her, I actually took some information in, and she sat there and read through it,” Wamsley said. “She was very open to looking at what I had to say, and looking at the literature that I had, and she just was really open to my point of view and to the things that mattered to me.”
Intermountain currently has six oncologists who serve patients in Weber and Davis counties, wrote Brad Gillman, media relations manager with Intermountain, in an email. A seventh oncologist will start in August. That oncologist is male.
This group of oncologists splits time between McKay-Dee Hospital, Layton Hospital and other clinics in the area, Gillman said.
Though there will not be any female oncologists working with Intermountain in Weber and Davis counties after Chittoria’s departure, Gillman said that there is one female oncology nurse practitioner in the area.
A key to increasing female oncologists may be attracting more female residents to oncology-related residencies at the University of Utah School of Medicine.
According to the 2018 Report on Residents by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), women are more likely to practice in the state where they completed their residency program.
Out of all residents in any specialty, 58% of women stayed in the state where they completed their residency, compared to 50.9% of men. The percentages are similar for residents in hematology and oncology.
Women made up 43% of residents in hematology and oncology, the largest residency specialty among those that involve oncology, according to the report.
The University of Utah School of Medicine’s residency program in medical oncology and hematology has graduated anywhere from one to six residents each year for the past 10 years. In 2019, only one of the five graduates was a woman, though there was a period from 2012–2014 when 40–60% of the graduates were female.
The graduating class of 2019 at the University of Utah School of Medicine was 38% female, according to Noman Khan, media relations and content marketing specialist with University of Utah Health.
Gillman did not mention any specific initiatives that Intermountain is undertaking to increase the number of female oncologists, but did provide a quote from Heather Brace, Intermountain’s senior vice president and chief people officer, regarding the organization’s effort to recruit more female physicians.
“Intermountain is strongly dedicated to diversity and inclusion for all of our caregivers,” Brace said. “We currently have plans in place that include hiring additional female physicians. This includes data tracking and working with physician leaders to expand candidate pools.”