Natalia Lopez says that authenticity leads to success. And her own path in life proves it.
Women's History Month began as a local week-long celebration in Santa Rosa, California, in 1978. But thanks to the efforts of The National Women's History Alliance and subsequent presidential proclamations, women's achievements are now recognized and celebrated on a national level during the month of March.
In recognition of Women's History Month, MSK is featuring a Women of MSK series of profiles throughout March. We will highlight several outstanding women in both clinical and non-clinical roles who have contributed greatly to our institution. It's not a comprehensive list by any stretch of the imagination, but it does provide a glimpse into MSK's community of extraordinary women. We hope you'll enjoy reading these stories of resilience, empowerment, and inspiration.
Some college students are fortunate enough to know exactly what path they want to pursue in life. But for many others the idea of a future career doesn't come easily.
"I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do," says Nicola Buchanan, Program Administrator for the Office of Faculty Development and the Office of Diversity Programs.
Born in the West Indies, Ms. Buchanan and her family moved to the United States when she was three years old and to College Point, Queens, when she was eight. She attended Queens College and received a bachelor's degree in psychology. But three months before graduating, she panicked when she realized she did not have any post-graduation plans. (Pictured right: Nicola Buchanan)
Ms. Buchanan knew she wanted to help people in some way and she gravitated towards the sciences. She paid a visit to her college's career office and consulted with an advisor, who brought out a big book of job listings. The first job the advisor saw was for a session assistant position at MSK's 53rd Street location. The listing indicated that MSK was hiring new graduates. Coincidentally, recruiters from MSK were attending an upcoming job fair at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center about a month later.
Reading the Signs
Ms. Buchanan had a good feeling about MSK, so she followed her gut and signed up for the job fair. Once the date approached, she went straight for the MSK table.
"I descended on the table like a crazy person," she says with a laugh. "I would've taken the tablecloth!"
She spoke briefly with the MSK representatives and one of them gave Ms. Buchanan the name of a contact in Talent Acquisition. Ms. Buchanan went home and read everything she could find about MSK. It was then that she knew she wanted to work at MSK. "Reading all about MSK — it just felt like a lock and key," she says. "I felt like I belonged there."
In June 2003, after a few rounds of interviews, Ms. Buchanan got a job as a session assistant on the fifth-floor gastrointestinal unit at MSK 53rd Street.
Fighting through the Financial Crisis
In 2006, Ms. Buchanan took on a new role as an administrative assistant in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science. She also went back to school part-time to earn a Master in Mental Health Counseling degree at Nyack College in Lower Manhattan. In 2010, she left MSK to complete her graduate school internship.
It was a difficult time for the country. The United States had just begun recovering from the Great Economic Recession, in which approximately 8.7 million jobs were lost between December 2007 and early 2010, and jobs were still scarce. After her internship was complete, Ms. Buchanan was unemployed for more than a year.
If nothing else, being out of work gave her time to think. She realized that she really wanted to return to MSK, and was thrilled when she landed a new job as Program Associate in the Office of Faculty Development and the Office of Diversity in the President's Office. In that position, she coordinated a variety of initiatives, including student programming and faculty training sessions, which prepared her for her present role as Program Administrator.
Despite struggling with a period of unemployment, Ms. Buchanan is thankful for the experience. It helped her find her way back to MSK and to a new career in program administration.
Making a Difference at MSK
In her role as Program Administrator, Ms. Buchanan organizes student programs and discusses MSK's cultural competence and diversity and inclusion programs during the New Employee Orientation sessions.
"I love to give voice to MSK employees and to shine a light on them," she says.
She is also a co-leader of the Black, Latino, Asian, and Multiracial (BLAM) Employee Resource Network, a role that is close to her heart. In September 2018, she played a large part in facilitating MSK's first-ever participation in the 49th Annual African American Day Parade. (Pictured left: Nicola at the African American Day Parade.)
"It was a tremendous amount of work but with a great reward and a positive impact on the community," she says. "We're doing it again this year!"
"What Women's History Month Means to Me"
During Women's History Month, Ms. Buchanan reflects on the impact her mother and sister, who are both school teachers in New York City, have had on her life.
"We continue to remain tight in the face of life's inevitable ups and downs and I am most grateful for their love and friendship," she says. (Pictured right: Nicola with her sister Shaina and mother Jeanette.)
She also takes time to remember her struggles with Impostor Syndrome and how she overcame it. Impostor Syndrome is the idea, particularly common among women, that your accomplishments have little value, that you don't deserve your job, and that you're likely to be exposed anytime as the "fraud" you are.
"I was often worried because I felt like I was the only one who didn't know for sure what I wanted professionally," she says. "It's a challenge to not give up even though everyone else seems so certain and is on a linear career path. But I just kept showing up every day."
She encourages other women who may be feeling out of place in their jobs to work hard and be their authentic selves.
"Don't feel like you're a fraud," she says. "The path will make itself clear; you just have to keep on showing up."