Renowned urologist Dr. Eila Skinner reflects on her journey in the field

Two years ago at the 2020 Society of Urologic Oncology (SUO) Annual Meeting, Eila C. Skinner, MD, became the first woman in history to receive the Huggins Medal for achievement and contributions in the field. In an interview during the 2021 SUO Annual Meeting, she reflected on her journey as a clinician and gave advice to students looking to pursue the specialty. Skinner is a urologic oncologist and Thomas A. Stamey research professor of urology at Stanford Health in Stanford, California.

You are the 2020 recipient of the Huggins Medal, and also the first woman to receive this award. What did being awarded the Huggins Medal mean to you?

I've been in the SUO for many, many years and the Huggins Medal has always been one of their highest honors. To be honest, I never thought that I would actually receive that award and it was incredibly humbling just to look at the other people who have received it. It was very sad to have to do the talk virtually, and not to be able to be at the SUO during the meeting, but it was great.

What are some accomplishments in the field of treating genitourinary cancers that you are particularly proud of?

I've focused on bladder cancer, [for] at least the last half of my career, and we've been really primarily focusing on offering continent urinary diversion and being able to try to optimize that operation, honing down which patients actually benefit the most and making sure that it's being offered. That's really, I think, the biggest contribution that I and my group have made. It's sad because it's not offered very often anymore around the country, but still a big focus of my practice. We also have been, in the last few years, really focused on multidisciplinary treatment for patients with more advanced disease and now even for patients with non–muscle-invasive cancer. So, that's trying to contribute to understanding the biology and how the treatments interact with each other.

What advice would you give young urologists starting out in their careers?

It's great because my daughter actually just finished her residency in urology, so I've been able to do this real time. Plus, of course, we have lots of students and residents that I've helped teach over the years. I think the most important thing is to throw yourself into it. Urology continues to be an amazing, varied career path, depending on what you enjoy. And I think one of the hardest things and one of the most important things is to figure out what part of urology excites you the most and look for those opportunities. They're for good and for bad. There's a big shortage, so there's plenty of job opportunities, and you can try to figure out what you really love and go in that direction.

What advice would you give a woman medical student who is considering pursuing urology as a specialty?

I was very early among the first women in urology, and in those days it was really going out on a limb to go into that field. I got a lot of negative feedback at the time. Fortunately, I pursued it and it's been a fabulous career for me. I have 3 kids, I have had a great family life, so it's been very nice to be able to balance that. It's not unusual now for women to go into urology. Almost a third of residents are women, so you will not be alone. You have to not listen to people who say, "Oh, you can't do it," because you absolutely can. It's just the best field, still, of all the sub specialties. It's by far the best and I would say go for it if you're interested.