Ask a kid what they want to be when they grow up and the answers are often predictable – doctor, lawyer, cop, firefighter. As a child, Chad Rusthoven, MD always said he wanted to be a doctor – it seemed like a good career choice, frequently reinforced by both teachers and parents. Over the years, he’s learned that being a physician in the field of radiation oncology is a far more complex and rewarding journey than he ever imagined.
After earning his undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Florida honors college, Rusthoven committed to pursuing medicine and spent another 10 years in training, including medical school at University of South Florida, internship at Georgetown, and ultimately his residency in radiation oncology at University of Colorado Hospital.
“There were a number of fields that interested me in medical school, including internal medicine, infectious disease, and emergency medicine. Ultimately, I decided on oncology, which ended up being a wonderful choice for me,” Rusthoven says. “It’s a multidisciplinary field, that’s constantly evolving and advancing. But above all, oncology allows you to support people going through a major challenge in their lives, which is such a privilege and a uniquely human experience.”
After completing his radiation oncology residency in 2015, Rusthoven was offered a position to stay on as a faculty member at the University of Colorado Hospital, with a specialization in the treatment of lung and brain tumors.
“Working in the lung and CNS oncology programs at UCH has really been a dream job for me,” he says. “It is an incredible environment to work in, with a culture of compassionate, patient- centered care and colleagues who are some of the world’s leading experts in oncology.”
Rusthoven is part of CU’s renowned thoracic oncology team improving outcomes for people with lung cancer around the world.
“When I was a resident,” Rusthoven recalls, “Brian Kavanagh (MD, MPH, chair of radiation oncology), Ross Camidge (MD, PhD, director
of thoracic oncology), and Bob Doebele (MD, PhD, director of the Thoracic Oncology Research Initiative) were just beginning to look at the combination of radiation and targeted therapies in lung cancer. Five years later, their work has defined some of the key treatment paradigms in the national guidelines for lung cancer patients with targetable mutations.”
As a radiation oncologist, Rusthoven’s job is to help his patients live longer, improve symptoms, and to minimize the side effects of therapy. Sometimes the treatment options are limited, though, and Rusthoven believes that may be when some of his patients need their physicians the most.
“As oncologists, there is always something we can do. For some, it is treating with the hope of cure or improving quality of life. But in some cases, people just need to speak to someone understanding who cares about what they are going through,” he says.
Rusthoven’s bedside manner was recently recognized with an induction to the Gold Humanism Honor Society, a distinction voted on by current UCH residents and fellows in recognition of faculty members who embody humanism in medicine.
In addition to his interest in patient-centered oncology, Rusthoven is also an active researcher and author. He has had notable success early
in his career, with original research and opinion contributions to leading medical journals including the Journal of Clinical Oncology and the New England Journal of Medicine. Rusthoven also serves as a panel member for the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) brain tumor and small-cell lung cancer guidelines, which set the standard-of- care for the oncology care in U.S.
For example, in a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, a group of CU-lead radiation oncologists and surgeons, with Rusthoven as senior author, analyzed post-treatment outcomes for over 80,000 patients with stage I lung cancer. Importantly, the authors found differences in post-treatment outcomes between surgery and radiation that appeared to increase with age, which could influence decision-making among older patients who are eligible for either treatment.
“The culture of research at CU is to go wherever the data leads you, and we’ve been fortunate enough to follow those leads to some exciting research questions over the years. Here, I also have the advantage of working with some of the brightest and most open-minded oncologists around,” he says.
With old-school bedside manner and an openness to ongoing scientific advancement, Chad Rusthoven hopes to be one of CU’s radiation oncology leaders for the next generation in the rapidly advancing field of cancer care.