RLI Taking the Lead Podcast

Episode 40: Sarah S. Donaldson, MD, FACR


Sarah S. Donaldson, MD, FACR

Leading with 110%


November 30, 2021

In this episode, Sarah S. Donaldson, MD, FACR, the Catharine and Howard Avery Professor at Stanford University School of Medicine and Director of the Mentoring Program in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Stanford, shares her leadership journey from candy striper to international authority in clinical radiation oncology. After receiving her undergraduate and nursing degrees from the University of Oregon, her Bachelor of Medical Sciences from Dartmouth Medical School (where she was one of six women in her class!) and her MD from Harvard Medical School, she ultimately completed her Radiation Oncology residency at Stanford, joined the faculty in 1973, and has served Stanford continuously since that time.

Growing up in a single-parent household, Dr. Donaldson’s mother instilled in her the importance of working hard and being able to take care of herself. Her interest in health care began in high school when she started working as a candy striper in a local hospital and ‘came alive’ as she was given increasing responsibility and patient interaction. With boundless energy, and an always positive attitude, she said yes to every committee and opportunity in high school – a philosophy she carried with her through medical school, residency and beyond.

With the support of strong mentors and coaches, she found herself in the right places at the right times which led her to her interest and expertise in childhood cancer. Having served in a number of leadership roles for a variety of national organizations, Dr. Donaldson believes her commitment to diversity and inclusion is fundamental to her numerous professional successes.

Don’t miss this inspiring conversation to learn more about Dr. Donaldson’s commitment to community service, who Sam Donaldson was, and why it is so important to her to find joy in everything she does.

View episode transcript »

Sarah S. Donaldson, MD, FACR

Sarah S. Donaldson, MD, FACR is the Catharine and Howard Avery Professor at Stanford University School of Medicine and Director of the Mentoring Program in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Stanford. She is an authority in clinical radiation oncology, with particular interest and expertise in childhood cancer, especially pediatric Hodgkin’s lymphoma and rhabdomyosarcoma. She has a long time interest in the late effects of cancer and its treatment.

Dr. Donaldson received her undergraduate and nursing degrees from the University of Oregon, a BMS from Dartmouth Medical School in 1966, and her MD from Harvard Medical School in 1968. She completed her Radiation Oncology residency at Stanford, joined the faculty in 1973, and has served Stanford continuously since that time.

Full Bio »

Did You Know?

Outside of work, Dr. Sarah Donaldson enjoys theatre and outdoor activities. She serves on the Board of the local regional theatre, Theatre Works Silicon Valley and is quite involved as the Board Chair of Development. She stays active, biking weekly, going to the gym twice a week, partaking in pilates, and is also part of a walking group. Dr. Donaldson is also a Stanford athletics fan following their football and women’s basketball teams closely.

Dr. Donaldson loves to travel. She has been fortunate to have traveled extensively throughout the world, initially to medical meetings, then societal retreats. She and her long-term partner, Jacob Haimson, have also traveled with her walking group to many destinations including Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, Canada, the United Kingdom, most of western Europe, and several destinations and national parks in the US. Currently, she and her walking group are planning a trip to Japan! Dr. Donaldson’s favorite cities are Paris, London, Florence, and Melbourne.

Before landing in radiation oncology, Dr. Donaldson began in health care as a hospital volunteer candy striper, then nurse’s aide, and ultimately as a nursing student and graduate nurse. Following a few memorable years as a surgical research nurse, she went to medical school and developed an interest in oncology. As a medical student, she had wide interests in surgical oncology, medicine and pediatrics, but was directed into radiology/radiation oncology by a significant mentor.

Dr. Donaldson, like many physicians, has a dependency on coffee, preferably a cappuccino. After hours, she relaxes with red wine, a Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley, Oregon or a Shiraz from Barossa Valley Australia are among her favorites.

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