Mentor/Mentee Reflections on the International Development and Education Award

Oct 27, 2014

The Conquer Cancer Foundation is currently accepting applications for the 2015 International Developmentand Education Award (IDEA) and International Development and Education Award in Palliative Care (IDEA-PC) programs. These awards support early-career oncologists in low- and middle-income countries by pairing them with a mentor in the United States or Canada and providing travel support to attend the ASCO Annual Meeting and visit their mentor's institution. Find eligibility criteria and download the Request for Applications.The application deadline is January 7, 2015.

In the article that follows, 2013 IDEA recipient Maria T. Bourlon, MD, of the Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Médicas y Nutrición Salvador Zubirán, Mexico, and L. Michael Glodé, MD, of the University of Colorado, Denver, reflect on their experiences as mentee and mentor.

"This was going to change my life": Maria T. Bourlon, MD
I first heard about the IDEA program from my professor Dr. Fidel David Huitzil-Meléndez. He knew of my interest in urologic oncology and encouraged me to apply for the IDEA. He provided support for me to conclude my research project, "Clinical Colorectal Cancer Subsets in Advanced Disease: Patterns of Metastatic Spread to Predict Survival," which I used as a part of my application to the Conquer Cancer Foundation. Reading the email about being selected to receive the award has been one of the most exciting moments in my career as an oncologist. I remember Dr. Huitzil-Meléndez stating that this was going to change my life.

Attending the ASCO Annual Meeting for the first time in my life was an unforgettable experience. Getting to see the presentations of practice-changing research was a fascinating opportunity for me. The importance of ASCO Past President Dr. Sandra Swain's theme—"Building Bridges to Conquer Cancer"—was clear to me. This program will facilitate a better knowledge of cancer all over the world and pave the way for the inclusion of more nations into clinical trials.

For my post-Annual Meeting travel, Dr. Glodé was my mentor, and the Urologic Oncology Department of the University of Colorado Cancer Center hosted me. In one week, Dr. Glodé was able to show me the cancer center, the research buildings, and laboratories; I attended tumor boards; we spent time together at the inpatient facilities and the outpatient clinic; and he gave me articles to read. However, most importantly, he gave me the enthusiasm to strive to become the urologic oncologist I want to be.

His commitment to this enterprise was clear when the possibility of me coming as a visiting research fellow became available through support from my former institution in Mexico. He helped me write the request letter to the private foundation, Canales de Ayuda A.C., which provided the financial support. I could see that my life was changing: the University of Colorado Cancer Center was hosting me as a visiting research fellow!

At this time, I have enjoyed four months of intense clinical and research assignments. I have had the opportunity to work with different faculty members with diverse expertise among urologic malignancies. Amazingly, all of them have shared with me their knowledge with great enthusiasm. I can feel my progress in being able to design better treatment plans, and discuss clinical approaches and new projects coming into my mind. I wish to recognize the University of Colorado: they have received me without me paying anything, and I have accessed all the campus facilities such as the library, research programs, and lectures. I have received personalized classes and lessons to do systematic reviews, and received help managing references from the librarians.

I look forward to treating many patients with urologic malignancies at my home institution and getting them involved in clinical trials. I am aware that a great effort will be needed to maintain this ongoing relationship during the following years. However, I definitely see that we are working together to build a bridge between our institutions.

"A productive two-way street": L. Michael Glodé, MD, FACP, FASCO
I first heard about the IDEA program in an email from ASCO that asked for volunteers who were willing to host a fellow from abroad. I responded, listing my areas of interest, and I was gratified to be contacted by the selection committee to host Dr. Bourlon at our cancer center after the 2013 ASCO Annual Meeting.

One of the more interesting challenges was to get all of the paperwork done to allow her to be a visiting physician and actually see patients. At our institution, there are a number of hurdles that must be negotiated, including Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance training, filling out forms to be a sponsor, providing documents from the proposed fellow describing the method of support, and so on. Maria and I worked through these together, and in doing so, I began to realize her dedication and ability to face challenges with equanimity.

As it turned out, her post-Annual Meeting visit worked out perfectly. She saw patients and met a number of junior faculty in our Genitourinary (GU) Oncology program, who were uniformly impressed with her knowledge base and desire to become a GU-oriented oncologist at her home institution. The short visit was capped off by having her as a guest at the annual fellows' graduation picnic, where she met our 2013 graduates and interacted with the other fellows who were there.

The next phase of our journey occurred when Maria wrote with the great news that she had been granted a Mexican government scholarship to spend another 12 months with us in Denver if a position was open. She also received support from Canales de Ayuda A.C., an institution that funds promising young physicians.

This gave our group the opportunity to brainstorm about what review papers and clinical experiences she might participate in for a more prolonged visit. She arrived in March, and this time the paperwork was much smoother as she and the office staff had been through it all before. We have been extremely impressed by her knowledge base—she seems to have read every paper our team has published in the last decade—and each of our team members has welcomed her into the clinic with different techniques. In my case, I have enjoyed having her propose treatment plans, do the physical exam, and interact with the patients while I sort through the Epic chart and bring my patients' charts into a more logical order. This was overdue, as we have been using Epic for about 18 months and the transfer of previously dictated notes made it challenging to set them up in the new format.

In the area of clinical care, I introduced Maria to my patients, explaining that she wishes to start a multidisciplinary clinic at her institution working closely with one of our surgical colleagues, Dr. Arturo Mendoza-Valdes, whom I have known for many years through attendance at various meetings. It has been exciting to brainstorm what kinds of studies might be feasible, publishable, and unique in her new role. As a research fellow, Maria has been able to get a number of review-type articles started with the mentorship of several of our GU Oncology faculty. We have greatly benefited from our better understanding of the challenges and opportunities that will face her in her new faculty position beginning next year, and we look forward to a long and productive two-way street in conducting joint research projects together.

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