Emese Zsiros, MD, PhD, grew up in Budapest, Hungary, with two physicians for parents: her father is a trauma surgeon and her mother, an intensive care anesthesiologist. Not surprisingly, she developed a passion for medicine as a child.
“I saw very early on the miracles that medical professionals play in peoples’ lives,” says Dr. Zsiros.
After earning a combined MD/PhD at a top medical school in Europe, she went to train in Spain and the Middle East, and then to the United States to complete an OB/GYN residency. She decided to specialize in gynecologic oncology during her second year of residency.
“I started to appreciate the challenges and beauty of taking care of critically ill patients. I also loved the tremendous excitement, fast decision-making and high adrenaline level of complicated surgeries,” she says.
In addition to her parents, Dr. Zsiros credits the support of several professors and healthcare professionals who helped her make the decision.
“I had great mentors along the way who continuously looked after me and still encourage me each day. My father is an excellent surgeon, and my mother is a skilled anesthesiologist – they both very much supported my career choice,” she says.
These mentors also taught her much about patient care and bedside manner.
“I learned the enormous significance of seemingly small gestures, such as a reassuring smile or a gentle pat on the shoulder of a desperate patient,” she says. “I experienced the wonderful feeling of being able to provide real hope to people suffering from cancer.”
After she finished her training at the University of Pennsylvania, she hoped to find an academic position at a cancer research center that focused on immunotherapy approaches, had a progressive clinical team and a supportive research environment for a junior physician-scientist: all of which she found at Roswell Park. Plus, she found a professional family.
“When I came to interview, I always liked my partners very much,” she recalls. “They now are great friends, great coworkers, so when I added up all these things together, it was a very natural choice to come to Roswell Park.”
Today, Dr. Zsiros treats patients with gynecological cancers, caring for all her patients as if they were her loved ones, saying "I treat every single patient as though they were my friends or close family members.”
She also focuses on advancing treatments, conducting clinical trials on cancer-fighting vaccines in Roswell Park’s Center for Immunotherapy.
“That is exactly why I came to Roswell Park, because I feel there is huge potential to change how we treat our patients,” she says. “In the past 20 years, we really have not been able to change the course of this disease. Using novel immunotherapy strategies, we have a huge potential to significantly improve the survival of our patient population.”
Dr. Zsiros also cites the new changes in the treatment of gynecological cancers.
“We have several new therapies approved in the frontline setting and we are working on novel immunotherapy approaches to achieve durable clinical responses while maintaining good quality of life for patients,” she says.
Her laboratory is currently doing translational research on understanding how the human microbiome interacts with the immune system. The team hopes to develop interventional strategies to manipulate the gut microbiota to enhance the efficacy of immunotherapies.
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What sets her apart in her work from others in gynecologic oncology?
“My compassionate and honest care for my patients, my constant thriving for clinical excellence and my curiosity to keep looking for alternative treatment options and the willingness to push the boundaries, when others would have given up already,” she says.
And, a good sense of humor, she adds.
“I am extremely hard working, but I also like to have fun and humor in my life. These qualities are not easy to balance, but I have always been fortunate to be able to consider most of my colleagues more than just co-workers. They have become my friends, as we were paddling in the same boat, tackling the same currents and sharing the quiet lulls and the humorous crest.”