Apr 21, 2023
By Geraldine Carroll, ASCO Publishing
ASCO is honoring María Teresa Bourlon, MD, MS, of El Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Médicas y Nutrición Salvador Zubirán, and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, with the 2023 Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation, International Women Who Conquer Cancer (WWCC) Mentorship Award.
“There is a phrase I like a lot: ‘The sky is not the limit when there are footprints on the moon.’ So, as a woman, when I see another woman in a leadership role, it makes me realize that there are no limits for our dreams and goals, and we must pursue them,” Dr. Bourlon said. “As women, we can learn the skills and develop the abilities to become leaders in oncology.”
Dr. Bourlon will receive the award during the 2023 ASCO Annual Meeting on June 4 and participate in a session on mentorship and career development. The WWCC Mentorship Awards recognizes extraordinary leaders in oncology and role models who have excelled as mentors for their outstanding commitment to the professional development of female colleagues as clinicians, educators, and researchers in oncology.
“I am honored to receive this award,” Dr. Bourlon said, adding that the recognition has strengthened her commitment to support women as they build their careers in oncology in Mexico and leverage opportunities further afield.
Building Careers in Low- and Middle-Income Countries
Dr. Bourlon has served as a mentor for research fellows in medical school, medical oncology fellows, oncologists specializing in urologic oncology, and as thesis director for graduate students.
“As mentors we experience the unique pleasure of seeing our mentees improve their clinical skills, overcome the difficult moments with patients dealing with disease progression, and watching our mentees become oncologists,” she said. Nurturing the talents of clinicians and being an effective role model is especially important in low- and middle-income countries, she added.
She is a member of the Academic Global Oncology Leadership Task Force and a JCO Global Oncology Editorial Fellowship mentor. Dr. Bourlon is the ambassador of the Oncofertility Consortium in Mexico and has served as faculty of ESMO Summit Latin America, ESO Latin America, and the ASCO Annual Meeting and ASCO Genitourinary Cancers Symposium. Supporting women in global oncology is a key priority.
Dr. Bourlon’s physician father inspired her to pursue a career in medicine and was her first mentor.
“When I was a little girl, he was the director of the Internal Medicine Program at a private hospital in Mexico City. Even as an infant I was allowed to stay in the nursing station while he rounded in the in-patient hall with his residents. As I grew up, I was impressed by how his residents were punctually waiting for him; they prepared the cases and discussed their patients,” she said, adding that the experience taught her about the importance of sharing knowledge in medicine.
Teaching is a true passion for Dr. Bourlon. She initially trained junior research fellows before leading Master of Science and PhD research projects and creating the first urologic oncology fellowship in Mexico.
“I really think teaching is learning twice. During my early career, I enjoyed coaching junior medical students on pathology and anatomy practices, and the residents whom I considered the most prepared were those who had a high disposition for teaching,” Dr. Bourlon said.
Ultimately, she said, mentors have the satisfaction of leaving a legacy of qualified clinicians and researchers to move the oncology field forward in the years ahead.
The Impact of Skilled Mentorship
Dr. Bourlon credits a host of mentors who have supported her over the years, including Gregorio T. Obrador, MD, MPH, who gave Dr. Bourlon her first opportunity as an associate professor at Universidad Panamericana. The leadership of Dr. Bourlon’s institution, El Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Médicas y Nutrición Salvador Zubirán, have also been instrumental in supporting her work to create the institution’s Urologic Oncology Clinic.
In 2013, Dr. Bourlon was awarded the ASCO International Developmental and Education Award (IDEA) and credits the mentorship of Michael Glodé, MD, for inspiring her to fulfill her dream of becoming a urologic oncologist, which required her to train in the United States. He also served as her mentor during her fellowship at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus Genitourinary Cancer Program and brought together a team of key mentors for Dr. Bourlon, including Thomas Flaig, MD, Elaine Lam, MD, and Elizabeth Kessler, MD, to provide guidance and support.
Over the years, her mentors have proven that good mentorship is a team sport as they have continued to support her research and academic efforts and have even mentored her mentees through professorship visits and more.
“Dr. Glodé and my University of Colorado mentors showed me that mentorship is a team effort, a never-ending commitment and a shared responsibility that is inherited across generations,” she said.
Dr. Bourlon is also grateful to Canales de Ayuda, A.C. and the Aramont Charitable Foundation for playing a key role in trusting her vision as a young oncologist eight years ago, providing financial support for the Urology Oncology Clinic and enabling her to initiate projects and educate young medical scholars. Dr. Bourlon also expressed gratitude for being nominated for the WWCC Mentorship Award by the members of her team.