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How I Am Becoming a Medical Oncologist Through Early Exposure to the Field

Sep 13, 2022

Francisca Douglass is a third-year medical student at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. Ms. Douglass, who is interested in medical oncology, shares her experience as a participant in ASCO’s Oncology Summer Internship program.

Please describe your training path thus far.
FD: I completed my undergraduate degree at Case Western Reserve University in 2020, then came to Ohio State to start medical school that year. Some extracurricular groups that have been particularly meaningful to my training path thus far include an initiative called You Are Not Alone, which I helped create, and a group called Page to Bedside. The You Are Not Alone initiative is a group that supports students through their remediation processes in medical school. I had to remediate a block early on in medical school and struggled immensely through that process mentally and emotionally; I didn’t want other students to feel the way I did. We connect remediating students with one another and with our student-run leadership team who have all previously remediated. We provide our support in hopes of not only helping these students reach academic success, but also to decrease the stigma of going through the remediation process. Everyone fails, and in an arena like medicine where so many base their self-worth on their academic abilities and achievements, it is extraordinarily important to normalize the process and support others through difficult times. 
Page to Bedside is a group that brings students together to read books and supplemental pieces to discuss in the light of bringing these insights to our practice at the bedside. We have discussed wide breadths of topics, from life as an immigrant in the United States to the practice of medicine and how it impacts the quality of life at the end of life and the implications of that on the patient and their caregivers. I love not only learning from the pieces, but the fascinating differences in the impact the same piece will have on different classmates depending on their backgrounds and past experiences. 
Who are some of the people who have helped shape your professional journey?
FD: Two influential mentors for me are Dr. Claire Verschraegen and Dr. Ashley Pariser. Their dedication to their patients and kind and caring attitudes are qualities that I really admire. They take time to understand all parts of the patients outside of simply their medical presentations. Seeing the importance of humanity within their practice and the care of the whole person reminds me of why I went into medicine.
What precipitated your interest in oncology?
FD: My experiences in the ASCO Oncology Summer Internship (OSI) were instrumental in my interest in oncology. Before my experiences in the OSI, I was generally interested in internal medicine, but was struggling to truly see myself in any particular specialty within medicine. The shadowing experiences I was allowed throughout the OSI really gave me the opportunity to find my fit within medical oncology. I was enamored with the patients, their stories, and the deep relationships and trust they shared with their physicians, and felt that I had finally found my niche.
Throughout my experiences in the OSI, I was able to shadow surgical, medical, and radiation oncologists at my institution and get a glimpse at what a day in practice was like every day. We also were lucky to have daily didactic sessions led by oncologists around the country to instruct us on different cancer processes and how to think through clinical scenarios. ASCO also connected us with mentors, which has been a really helpful asset in guiding me along my journey. 
Tell us about your experience at the 2022 ASCO Annual Meeting.
FD: The 2022 ASCO Annual Meeting was an incredible experience and opportunity for me to attend. I was able to attend sessions that allowed me to connect with other oncologists about their passions, their careers, and life experiences. I was also able to learn about exciting new advances in treatment options and tools to overcome burnout and bias in the workplace. I met new mentors and learned about opportunities available to me once I complete medical school. 
How have these ASCO programs and events impacted your career trajectory and career decisions?
FD: The ASCO programs have immensely impacted my career trajectory. I had never considered going into oncology before my experiences in the internship. After having watched my father lose his battle to cancer, it was not a career I thought I could emotionally handle—let alone enjoy. I realized in my shadowing experiences the amount of joy and passion it brought me to guide others through the frightening path that is a cancer diagnosis. Giving my all to something that took so much from me, so that others on the road behind me can have a better experience, has always been a cornerstone of my character. This is something I feel I am able to do for patients and their caregivers in oncology. 
What do you wish you had known before you chose your current training path?
FD: One thing I wish I had known before starting in my career path is how important it is to attain a sense of balance among the demands of a medical career and training. In a career in which there is always more that can be done, it’s essential to draw boundaries and enjoy life outside of medicine. It’s very easy to conform to the system and feel the need to work constantly, but maintaining a sense of self not only improves the medical system by bringing multiple different perspectives to the same problem, it maintains your sanity and allows you to give more to your patients than if you are coming from a place of burnout and exhaustion. 
If you must pick one aspect, what part of medical school is your favorite? What part is the most challenging or frustrating?
FD: My favorite part of medical school has been seeing myself and classmates grow through our experiences. From hearing from others through their remediation process, listening to the insights from my Page to Bedside group, and simply talking about the process of attending medical school throughout the pandemic, I feel that I am constantly learning from those around me. 
I think the most challenging part of medical school so far has been my struggle through my rotations. It’s very easy to feel helpless when caring for hospitalized patients who have seemingly endless morbidities. I have been combatting this by doing what I am most capable of in this part of my training: giving the patients my time. There is power in being a kind and engaged presence and I have felt the joys and sorrows alongside my patients. That experience makes all of the hours worth it to me.
What advice would you give to other medical students who are beginning to explore oncology as a possible career? 
FD: I would recommend that they explore oncology in as many different settings as possible. From surgery, radiation, medical treatment, and pathology, the multidisciplinary team that treats cancer is important to appreciate and understand. I also feel that seeing the different ways in which different providers care for their patients is a vital experience to see parts of yourself in the practice.

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