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Large Abroad | Jamaican oncologist leads cancer research at Johns Hopkins University

Published:Sunday | September 18, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Fabian Johnston

Assistant Professor of Surgery and Co-Director of the Peritoneal Surface Malignancy Program at Johns Hopkins University Dr Fabian Johnston decided to enter the field of medicine after watching several episodes of The Cosby Show.

As a black child living in the United States (US) in the 1980s, the image of a successful black family gave him something to which he could aspire.

Having left Jamaica at age two, along with his parents who migrated to the US, Johnston learnt quickly that anything was possible for him if he was willing to work hard.

"My parents were the most influential people for me growing up. I was very cognisant of the effort they took to give my siblings and me a better life ... . Their efforts showed me that I didn't have room for being lackadaisical," he told The Gleaner.

Johnston entered medical school with his heart set on being a psychiatrist, but having done his surgery rotations, he discovered a newfound love for surgical oncology.

"I am, essentially, a cancer surgeon. My job is to work in concert with other specialist to provide the best combined therapies for patients with cancers. I focus on cancers in the abdomen, especially the stomach, colon, and pancreas. I remove the cancers to give patients the best chance of living as long a life as possible," he said in explaining his role as co-director of the Peritoneal Surface Malignancy Program at Johns Hopkins University Hospital.




Having begun his career as an assistant professor of surgery at The Medical College of Wisconsin, Johnston says he welcomed the opportunity to go to Johns Hopkins as he saw the prospect of working at one of the foremost hospitals in the world as a blessing on many levels.

He also pointed out that the move provided an opportunity to be closer to members of his extended family.

"I would be able to utilise the tremendous resources of the institution to expand my research. In addition, I would be able to expand the kinds of patients with various cancers," he said.

In addition to treating cancer patients and carrying out research, Johnston also has to fulfil teaching duties as he serves as an assistant professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

He confessed that the biggest challenge for him is balancing his work life with his family life but noted that having his three daughters has forced him to improve this balance.

In keeping with the tradition at Johns Hopkins, the Jamaican native is deeply involved in research that seeks to incorporate patient-centred intervention models to improve the utilisation of palliative care among patients with gastrointestinal malignancies.