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How I Became a Pediatric Resident With an Interest in Cardio-Oncology and Anthracycline Cardiomyopathy

Mar 08, 2021

Ogie M. Ezeoke, MD, is a categorical pediatric PGY-2 at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. “I feel I must have fallen in love with the city, coming to the ASCO Annual Meeting every year but one, starting from 2013!” she said.

Dr. Ezeoke is the recipient of two awards from Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation: a 2016 Medical Student Rotation for Underrepresented Populations (MSR), which enables U.S. medical students from underrepresented populations in medicine who are interested in a career in oncology to undertake clinical or clinical research rotations and pairs them with an oncology mentor, and a 2020 Resident Travel Award for Underrepresented Populations (RTA), which provides funding for medical residents from underrepresented populations in medicine to attend an ASCO Annual Meeting.

Tell us about your training thus far.

OE: Prior to medical school, I was a research study assistant in the Clinical Trials Department at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Here, I found truly incredible mentors—William D. Tap, MD, Michael A. Postow, MD, and Lisa Diamond, MD, MPH, to name a few. They supported and guided me through my research interests, my career in medicine, and in developing my first oncology-focused retrospective study. This project was a retrospective study assessing the role of race, ethnicity, and language on adult enrollment in cancer research studies. I was engaged in this project through medical school, and we are currently in the process of submitting our manuscript for publication.

Being able to present our preliminary findings during medical school at both national and international conferences allowed me to meet another remarkable mentor, Amy Caruso Brown, MD, a pediatric oncologist. Our project together, assessing vaccine hesitancy in caregivers of pediatric patients with cancer post-chemotherapy, truly fostered my interest in pediatrics, and our manuscript has been submitted for publication. Along my path, I have been able to focus my interests in oncology, in pediatrics, in advocacy, and now, as a resident, in cardio-oncology. At this time, I am engaged in a project assessing the prognostic significance of global longitudinal strain in uncovering sub-clinical late-onset anthracycline-induced cardiomyopathy.

Three things have always guided me in my journey in medicine: research enterprise, advocacy, and curiosity. The blessing of my career so far is that I have always found mentors who have championed all three. When Dr. Postow first took me under his wing, as a soon-to-be medical student, he supported my research questions, he connected me with colleagues whose expertise became invaluable to my learning, and he never once questioned my ability to succeed.

I admit to feeling nervous starting residency in a new city, wondering how I would find new mentors. It was in the midst of these nerves that I had a conversation with Karen M. Winkfield, MD, PhD, at a mentorship event during the 2019 ASCO Annual Meeting. She told me to find my village, as I always had. And I have: in Jennifer L. Reichek, MD, MSW, Kae Watanabe, MD, Kiona Y. Allen, MD, and Michael R. Carr, MD.

In medicine, in my career, it has only taken the finding of my village to continue in research, in patient advocacy, and in constant medical curiosity. 

What precipitated your interest in oncology?

OE: Family experience with cancer, in my grandmother and father, was what first drew me to oncology after college. The experience within cancer research, while at Sloan Kettering, as a medical student at SUNY Upstate, and currently as a pediatric resident, has solidified my love for this resilient and inspiring patient population. It was through oncology that my interest in cardiology and cardio-oncology was engendered, and I cannot foresee a career ahead of me that does not involve providing care and improving the lives of those affected by cancer.

How did your involvement in an ASCO Oncology Student Interest Group support you in your early training in oncology?

OE: I heard of the ASCO Oncology Student Interest Group (OSIG) as a first-year medical student, and I immediately emailed the president of our school’s Oncology Interest Group with the information, to allow us to engage with the amazing mentorship and financial support available for students. 

I would later be elected as president of this group and apply for and receive a grant for our chapter at Syracuse. Our executive board unanimously voted to use these funds to support medical student travel and attendance at ASCO meetings, and this was carried forth even following my leadership term.

On a more personal note, the ASCO OSIG was an amazing opportunity for me to present my research throughout medical school, in both poster and oral format. The mentorship pairings we received as members of the group were invaluable, and I felt well supported on my career path.

How did that path continue when you received first an MSR and later an RTA from ASCO and Conquer Cancer?

OE: Following my acceptance to medical school, and in the summer prior to matriculation, I worked with my mentors to develop a project to engage in during the upcoming, somewhat famous, first-year summer. Having attended ASCO meetings while at Sloan Kettering, I was on an email listserv that allowed me to learn of the MSR. The goals of the rotation aligned perfectly with my goals in that first summer of medical school—a combination of research, patient exposure, and advocacy. With support from Dr. Postow at Sloan Kettering and Richard Carvajal, MD, at Columbia, I applied for and received this grant from Conquer Cancer. In addition to supporting my research through that summer, the grant also facilitated my attendance at the following year’s ASCO Annual Meeting. This opportunity was critical in my career trajectory, allowing me to connect with a world of friends, mentors, and colleagues whom I would otherwise not have known.

I started residency knowing I would be applying for the RTA, and quickly sought out mentors at Lurie Children’s who could guide me in the process of submitting my grant application. The award, I knew, would support my attendance of the ASCO Annual Meeting, but was also an opportunity to further network in a community that has always been very welcoming. Although, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 ASCO Annual Meeting was made virtual, it was still an amazing opportunity to connect with mentors and friends whom I have met through my journey.

One of the most rewarding moments of this past meeting was being able to serve as an official ASCO Featured Voice on social media for the ASCO20 Virtual Education Program, alongside mentors who have known me since my pre-medical days.

How have these ASCO programs impacted your career trajectory?

OE: These programs have allowed me to join a community of physicians, patient advocates, researchers, and all who are committed to caring for people with cancer. I have been able to network with leaders in the fields of oncology and cardio-oncology, facilitated by these programs. I have grown as a learner, a researcher, a doctor through ASCO.

What do you wish you had known before you chose your current training path?

OE: If possible, I would have engaged with some of the even earlier research opportunities for both high school and college students that were available through institutions such as Sloan Kettering. Additionally, I would have sought out mentorship in medicine prior to my graduation from college, and perhaps developed a more direct path in my training.

If you have to pick one aspect, what part of residency is your favorite? What part is the most challenging or frustrating?

OE: My favorite part of residency has to be our patients! I’ve learned so much from them, grown as a clinician through diagnosis and management, and been moved by their ability to overcome illness. I feel honored to be invited to meet patients and their families at truly painful times in their lives, and be allowed to treat and support, even as a trainee.

A challenging part of that care delivery is often the inequities of health care, including insurance availability, transport, and monetary and food insecurity. Although our hospital is able to, and does, go to great lengths to ensure patient care continues outside the walls of the hospital, the reality of socioeconomic inequities continue to impact patient outcomes.

What advice would you give to other medical students or residents who are beginning to explore oncology as a possible career? 

OE: I would say joining ASCO, as a member, and beginning the process of seeking out mentorship would be an excellent first step. I cannot overstate the impact mentorship has had on my career and how it is a driving force toward achieving career goals.

Follow Dr. Ezeoke on Twitter @OME_ResidentMD.

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