By Andres F. Diaz
The study of cancer is remarkably primal and intimate. It reveals the biologic process of survival and evolution as well as the resilience of the human spirit. There is something terrifying yet captivating about cancer. It is a type of “you” that aims to overcome you, using the ultimate blueprint, your DNA, with complete disregard for its long-term self-preservation. But beyond my captivation with cancer biology, what ultimately draws me to the field of oncology is people. It is an absolute and unequivocal privilege to provide care for patients with cancer and their families.
Given my fascination with and dedication to oncology, I was incredibly grateful to ASCO for the opportunity to participate in the inaugural Oncology Summer Internship (OSI) in 2021. Learning from and collaborating with experts in the field was a genuine privilege. During the internship, I was introduced to Dr. Hussain Sattar, associate professor of pathology at University of Chicago Medicine, and Dr. Allan Pickens, associate professor and director of thoracic oncology at Emory University, among other extraordinary professionals in cancer care. With their help, I learned to critically appraise case studies, understand important histopathological findings, and formulate preliminary treatment plans for simulated patients. Through these interactions, I was exposed to the collaborative nature of cancer care and was inspired by the healers, advocates, mentors, and scientists that make this community so vibrant.
Through this internship, ASCO also made a statement about the need to train an oncology workforce that reflects the increasingly diverse patient populations of the United States. The reality is that despite gains in diversity and inclusion in recent years, oncology remains one of the least diverse specialties in medicine. With the OSI, ASCO made it a priority to provide students from communities that are historically underrepresented in oncology with an opportunity to explore the field. I was honored to be a part of such a unique cohort of students and mentors. The breadth of lived experiences, interests, and backgrounds encouraged me to believe that indeed there is a place for me in this specialty.
Likewise, hearing from patients and survivors and learning about their unique challenges through seminars and workshops further reinforced a sense of urgency and purpose, one that continues to add very real context to my laboratory research and medical training. To me, there is no greater feat of collaboration and humanity than oncology and cancer care—to face this ancient malady alongside a patient, their family, and, very often, with their community. Add to that the immense complexities of psychology, survivorship, faith, biology, and culture, and you have what I consider to be the most interesting, terrifying, and rewarding field in medicine.
Overall, the ASCO OSI served as a catalyst for my growth as an aspiring oncologist. This experience underscored that caring for patients and their families requires a collaborative approach. Moreover, the internship highlighted the importance of a diverse and inclusive physician workforce. Moving forward, I hope to build on the many lessons I have learned through this internship, and I look forward to my continued involvement with ASCO.
Mr. Diaz is an MD/PhD candidate in cancer biology at UA College of Medicine, University of Arizona, Tucson. Follow him on Twitter @AndresFDiaz10. Disclosure.
About the ASCO Oncology Summer Internship
In 2021, ASCO launched the Oncology Summer Internship (OSI) as a pilot with select U.S. medical schools to introduce rising second-year medical students from populations underrepresented in medicine to the diverse career options in oncology. The OSI is a paid, 4-week internship that features extensive clinical shadowing, weekly virtual education sessions on key oncology concepts, and weekly networking events to introduce students to mentors in oncology. In the short term, the OSI seeks to foster the success of students from underrepresented populations by introducing them to mentors, strengthening their connection to their community, and helping them define their career interests as they approach the transition to residency. The OSI’s larger goal is to encourage underrepresented physicians to pursue a career in oncology. The OSI reflects ASCO and Conquer Cancer’s longstanding commitment to supporting workforce diversity and the career success of the next generation of oncology professionals.