By Narmin Talibova, MD
Let me tell you about my journey after participating in the International Development and Education Award (IDEA) program.
I was an IDEA recipient in 2016, and I was the first doctor in my country, Azerbaijan, to receive the award. I first learned about the IDEA when I received a postcard from ASCO informing me about the upcoming ASCO Annual Meeting. I started to learn more about the IDEA program and decided to apply. I had no expectations of being selected, so it was a fantastic experience for me to receive a confirmation email about my selection for this program. I discussed the experience in detail in a 2016 ASCO Connection article, “From Azerbaijan to America: IDEA Recipient Learns From Top Cancer Centers, Leaders in the Field.”
Now I will tell you about my journey after IDEA. What changed after IDEA? Out of all the other grant opportunities, why was IDEA the main starting point in my career? The answers are the unique mentorship, excellent friendship, and perfect networking, which make me always feel the incredible impact of this program.
When I started my residency in Azerbaijan, I had limited access to modern treatment protocols and modern medication throughout my training years, which is a significant part of the health care process. I had difficulty improving my knowledge. I did not have a chance to go abroad for long periods for further education opportunities because of my children. Despite having fewer resources, I decided to find other options and further improve my knowledge of related topics, making me the first candidate in Azerbaijan to receive an IDEA from ASCO and Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation.
After the IDEA program, I networked and developed a good relationship with another young oncologist, which helped me learn a lot about grant opportunities. After that, I participated in nine preceptorship courses organized by the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO). These courses with travel grants helped to improve my knowledge on updated protocols. I am honored to be the first doctor in my country to pass ESMO examination.
In 2018 I was accepted to the Certificate of Competence in Breast Cancer program with a scholarship supported by the European School of Oncology (ESO). Now I am studying in the Master Online Advanced Oncology Program at the Ulm University with a scholarship from ESO.
The IDEA program also had a significant impact on my career in Azerbaijan. After completing the program, in 2018, I was appointed as the head of the International Relations and Innovations Department of the National Center of Oncology. As head of the department, I have organized different educational events in various regions of the country. I served as project manager of the Hospital Information System and Population-Based Cancer Registry at the National Center of Oncology. I also organized a ASCO Multidisciplinary Cancer Management Course (MCMC) on breast cancer and head and neck cancer. This event was not only a great beginning for our center, it was also an excellent beginning for my country to collaborate with ASCO. You can read more about the MCMC in “ASCO Multidisciplinary Cancer Management Course in Azerbaijan: A Well-Attended Success,” also published in ASCO Connection.
I will always be grateful for the mentors I met through the ASCO IDEA program, Richard M. Goldberg, MD, and Yvonne Efebera, MD, MPH. Despite the 6 years that have passed since I received the IDEA, we still have a good connection, and I always feel their support in my career. I had an excellent time with Dr. Goldberg and his wonderful wife when I was in the United States for the second time, for an observership at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The IDEA program helped me know such beautiful people who have been not only fantastic mentors to me—they have taught me how to mentor other people. Thank you, Dr. Goldberg and Dr. Efebera, for being such great role models!
I started to write this essay when I was in Germany. I was at the Comprehensive Cancer Center Ulm as a part of the ESMO Integration Fellowship Program. When I was there, I realized that I could not stop. As I wrote in my application for the IDEA program 6 years ago, I dream of establishing an international-level research laboratory and clinical trials unit in Azerbaijan. I am more than sure I have to follow all my dreams despite all difficulties.
I want to be a good model for young oncologists, especially women oncologists, from low-income countries with limited resources to improve their knowledge. We always have to follow our dreams. We have to create good friendships, good networking. We have to learn from each other. If we do these things, we can together conquer cancer. As an ESO and European Association for Cancer Research (EACR) ambassador in my region I will commit myself to encouraging young oncologists to take advantage of grant opportunities for limited-resource countries to make a great beginning in their career.
I want to encourage young oncologists from low- and middle-income countries to apply for the IDEA program and for other grants from oncology professional societies. These opportunities will broaden your knowledge and help you learn new skills in oncology treatment. This, in turn, will lead to better cancer care and, we hope, cure for patients with cancer in the world.
At the time of publication, Dr. Talibova was a medical oncologist at the National Oncology Center in Azerbaijan. As of August 2022, she is a medical oncologist at Comprehensive Cancer Center Ulm, in Germany. She is a member of the ASCO Resource-Stratified Guideline Advisory Group. Follow Dr. Talibova on Twitter @TalibovaNarmin.
2022 marks the 20th anniversary of the highly impactful International Development and Education Award (IDEA) from ASCO and Conquer Cancer. Read more perspectives from IDEA recipients.