May 14, 2021
By Ami S. Bhatt, MD, PhD, and Franklin W. Huang, MD, PhD
Formalizing Our Efforts Under the Global Oncology Nonprofit Organization
Our Vision for the Future: Equity as the Cornerstone of Cancer Care
Advice for Building Your Career in Global Oncology
1. Find good mentors. Global oncology is a growing field, and there are a small number of academic faculty members who have substantial experience in this space. Often, faculty who participate in global oncology outreach and research efforts also have other activities that are their primary efforts. This is, in part, because funding is hard to come by, and most academics have to financially support their efforts either through research dollars, administrative service, or clinical revenue. For that reason, it may be important to have both an oncology mentor and a global health mentor. The infectious disease field, for example, has a larger number of academicians who make global health their primary effort.
2. Recognize that global collaboration is about equal intellectual exchange. We have at least as much to learn from our global colleagues as they have to learn from us. Approaching collaborations with a sense of humility, compassion, and equity is critical. It is important that we understand the social, cultural, and political contexts in which we work, and it is critically important that we do a lot more listening than talking when we engage in global collaborations. One of our mentors, Dr. Marlink, head of the Rutgers Global Health Institute, taught us an important lesson when we got started in global health. He told us that the most important question to ask when you start a new global collaboration is simply, “How can we help?” Don’t assume that you know what others need: ask and listen early and often.
3. Develop a focused skill set. The way that we can be most effective in contributing to improved health outcomes in the cancer realm is by becoming very, very good at a particular skill. For example, if you are interested in population health, you could learn how to carry out a rigorous epidemiological study that will enable you to contribute in a specific, expert way. If you are a genomics expert, you can contribute by becoming the best genomics researcher you possibly can and then by helping to develop and support local, in-country researchers to develop these skills as well.
4. Plan for how your interventions and efforts will be sustainable. We need to move toward a goal of building local capacity to improve care and carry forward research and development efforts in the cancer space. In particular, we think it is important to avoid another wave of colonization in which researchers go overseas, pick up samples, come back to their high-income country, and write fancy, high-profile papers. These types of studies, while informative, often do little to advance the science, medicine, and scholarship of our global community.
Dr. Bhatt is an associate professor of medicine and genetics and director for global oncology in the Center for Innovation in Global Health at Stanford University. In addition to her global oncology-related work, Dr. Bhatt is the principal investigator of a research laboratory that studies the relationship between the microbiome and morbidity/mortality in patients with cancer. With Dr. Huang, she is the co-founder and co-director of Global Oncology, Inc.
Dr. Huang is an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of California San Francisco where he runs a research laboratory focused on cancer disparities. Dr. Huang is working to improve cancer treatment in underserved and understudied populations. His research focuses on prostate cancer and on the role of non-coding mutations in cancer. With Dr. Bhatt, he is the co-founder and co-director of Global Oncology, Inc. Follow him on Twitter.