By Narjust Duma, MD
The time has come, my last ASCO Annual Meeting as a medical trainee is around the corner. I still remember my first ASCO Annual Meeting. It was in 2014 and ASCO was celebrating its 50th anniversary. I walked into McCormick Place and saw this large sphere suspended from the ceiling announcing the 50 years of the meeting; I was excited and overwhelmed. My mentor had warned me, but his words did not do justice to the number of people, ideas, and how hard it was to get a hotel (for a reasonable price). After a few minutes, I started seeing physicians and scientists I have admired since I was in medical school. It was like an all-star concert full of oncology minds.
That afternoon I presented my first poster, “Gastric cancer in Hispanics,” a retrospective study showing clinical and pathologic differences for Hispanic patients with gastric cancer. One of my mentors came and guarded the poster so I could go and get free ice cream and coffee (thank you, Dr. Kasimis). People stopped by, and some of them were surprised I was presenting two posters as an intern. (I later learned that getting a poster accepted was not an easy task). My first meeting ended in a flash, and I was back in the hospital working on my next ASCO submission. As the years passed, I have learned how to be more efficient during the meeting, which sessions to attend, the art of networking, and more!
In 2018, it was time to find my first faculty position. I saw the ASCO Annual Meeting as the perfect opportunity to get advice regarding future career options and connect with institutions about possible interviews. I reserved a table and set up meetings with potential employers for two days. At times it felt like “speed dating” for them and me. It helped me determine which places were a good fit. Outside of the meeting’s faculty lounge, I met my future chair, Dr. Ruth O’Regan from the University of Wisconsin, and other members of her team; we connected, and a potential interview day was set. Who knew I would become a Badger a few months later.
The ASCO Annual Meeting was the place where I was introduced to a fantastic group of women also known as “The Wolf Pack.” At the 2019 ASCO Annual Meeting, I will give my first oral presentation thanks to the amazing women I met in this group. These powerful women have helped me with contract negotiations, life challenges, and developing great mentorship relationships.
Now, I am looking at my last ASCO Annual Meeting as a trainee; a few weeks after the meeting, I will start independent practice. I can see each phase of my short career and remember what happened at the ASCO meeting each year. All those long nights in February working on my ASCO abstracts were worth it because in each meeting I got to connect with old and new friends, develop new collaborations, and learn about exciting advances in cancer care. I never miss the Trainee and Early-Career Oncologist Lounge with its free goldfish crackers, soda, and the opportunity to run into old friends from the fellowship interview trail (maybe I'll see you there!)
Looking back, here are 10 lessons I have learned to make the most of the ASCO Annual Meeting:
- Book my hotel early.
- Put everything down in my Outlook calendar (meetings, breaks, etc.).
- Schedule meetings ahead of time (even with close friends).
- Wear comfortable shoes (some superwomen can do ASCO in heels; I am not one of them).
- Bring snacks and get coffee before I make it to McCormick Place.
- The Starbucks on the ground level always has a shorter line.
- From the airport, the train is faster than an Uber or taxi.
- Many evening events happen in downtown Chicago (instead of McCormick Place).
- The Poster Sessions are a fantastic place to learn and develop new ideas and collaborations.
- Always try to have fun!
Dr. Duma is the chief hematology/medical oncology fellow at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. Her clinical and research interests include thoracic oncology, women with lung cancer, and medical education. Follow her on Twitter @NarjustDuma.