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Medical Student Rotation Award: Helping Students Pursue Careers in Oncology

Apr 09, 2013

The Conquer Cancer Foundation of the American Society of Clinical Oncology Medical Student Rotation for Underrepresented Populations is designed to facilitate the recruitment and retention of individuals from populations underrepresented in medicine to cancer careers and increase access to quality care for underserved communities. The award provides 8- to 10-week clinical or clinical research oncology rotations for U.S. medical students from populations underrepresented in medicine who are interested in pursuing oncology as a career.

2012 Medical Student Rotation recipient Colby Cantu, of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, spoke with ASCO Connection about his experiences with the oncology rotation. Mr. Cantu was mentored by Drs. Amye Tevaarwerk and Kari Wisinski. His Medical Student Rotation was supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

AC: What led to your interest in oncology as a career focus?

Mr. Cantu: I first identified oncology as a field of interest during my first semester of medical school when I learned of our aging population and the rising rate of cancer incidence here in the United States. While in class, I specifically recall learning about the various stages and grades of the cancer spectrum because it reminded me of when my deceased grandmother had received her diagnosis of stage IV lung cancer in 1996. My grandmother and I were very close, but she was taken from me when I was only eight years old. I was confused and angry that cancer took her life, and I remain that way today: confused and angry. My grandmother reminds me every day that current diagnosis tools and treatment plans are not always enough to eradicate disease, and therefore, research in fields such as oncology is a necessity. I feel that I have a duty to my future patients and my deceased grandmother to fight cancer, and I plan to uphold this duty.

AC: What is your research project, “A Retrospective Chart Review of the Prevalence of Cytochrome P450 Inhibitor, Inducer and/or Substrate Use in Adult Patients with Solid Tumors,” about?

Mr. Cantu: My project concluded with a statistical analysis of a cohort of University of Wisconsin phase I patients receiving novel treatments for solid tumors. The results indicated that although phase I patients should theoretically be encased into a safe and structured treatment regimen, many patients were exposed to both potential drug-drug interactions and unnecessary drug therapies. I wrote an abstract and presented my research findings in a poster presentation at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine Medical Student Research Forum. My research findings will be used to support a manuscript that is currently being written for peer review.

AC: How did the rotation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison help your career?

Mr. Cantu: The Medical Student Rotation Award was greatly beneficial for my career development and planning because it helped me to identify academic medicine as my intended career path. I was able to observe the direct connections

between clinical medicine and clinical research, and how each can strengthen the other.

AC: What was it like working with Dr. Tevaarwerk and Dr. Wisinski?

Mr. Cantu: Drs. Tevaarwerk and Wisinski were instrumental in providing me the opportunity to observe clinical medicine and clinical research in tandem. I shadowed them up to three half-days per week in the oncology clinic, and this helped to put a human emphasis into my research project. I also met with them weekly to review the progress of my chart review, and for teaching instruction. We discussed data collection, data analysis, and future goals for the project. We also worked on preparing an abstract and poster for the Medical Student Research Forum and the initial components of our manuscript. Of greatest importance, they showed me the value and privilege of being a health care provider.

AC: What were some of the highlights of your rotation?

Mr. Cantu: Some highlights worth mentioning, in no particular order, include preparing an abstract and poster for the University of Wisconsin Medical Student Research Forum, attending weekly oncology and phase I conferences, shadowing experiences in the oncology clinic, and orally presenting my research to a small group of peers who were also conducting research in various other fields.

As an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin I conducted two and a half years of basic science research. The research was informative and it helped me build technical and analytical skills, but those experiences were far removed from human health, and eliciting any productive results was very arduous. So when I began my Medical Student Rotation, I was hoping the research would be more directly related to human health with results that could be produced more rapidly. I learned that I was correct on both accounts, but only to an extent.  It became obvious to me that research of any genre requires well-prepared and well-planned schemes, and setbacks can and should be expected regardless of the field of study or the methodology.

AC: What are you currently working on?

Mr. Cantu: At the present time I am involved in an ongoing effort to help write and edit drafts of a manuscript for intended peer-review publication based on the research findings of myself and my colleagues. Additionally, my positive experience conducting clinical research with Drs. Tevaarwerk and Wisinski in the field of oncology was strong enough to trigger my interests in taking a “fifth year” of medical school that will be dedicated solely to one year of clinical research. As such, I have identified a project that will examine the accuracy of breast cancer diagnosis following non-definitive needle core biopsy. I will be working under Dr. Elizabeth Burnside at the University of Wisconsin. The project will be set to begin shortly after I complete the USMLE Step 1 this summer.

Please make a gift to the Conquer Cancer Foundation to help support the MSR Award and other Foundation programs like it that encourage young people interested in medicine to enter and stay in the field of oncology.

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