Building a More Diverse Oncology Workforce Through Professional Development Opportunities

Nov 08, 2022

By Katherine H. Crawford, MA, PMP, ASCO Communications 
ASCO is committed to supporting a diverse oncology workforce through a robust portfolio of professional development offerings designed to help students and trainees explore the field of oncology as well as help early-career oncologists build leadership skills and launch their careers. Some professional development activities are also eligible for points toward the Fellow of ASCO (FASCO) designation to recognize the participants’ involvement in and contributions to the work of the Society. 
“It is clear that we need to be fostering a more diverse oncology workforce,” said Everett E. Vokes, MD, FASCO, chair of the ASCO Board of Directors. “If physicians have walked in the shoes of the patients they are seeing, that can help lead to more equitable care.”

Sparking an Interest in Oncology 

ASCO’s 2022 Snapshot: State of the Oncology Workforce in America report noted that of the 13,365 oncologists currently engaged in patient care, more than 20% are nearing retirement age. It also highlighted the lack of diversity in this workforce, with only 4.7% of oncologists being of Hispanic/Latino background, 3% Black, and 0.1% American Indian or Alaska Native. 
With these dual imperatives—making sure the number of practicing oncologists stays steady or increases to meet demand, and increasing the diversity of workforce composition—ASCO is actively engaging medical students and early-career professionals to try and recruit them into the oncology sector. 
Medical Student Rotation for Underrepresented Populations
The Medical Student Rotation award provides financial support for U.S. medical students from populations underrepresented in medicine and who are interested in oncology as a career, to experience a minimum 4-week clinical or clinical research rotation. The oncology rotation can take place in a private practice, hospital, or academic setting with a focus on either direct patient care or clinically-oriented research. 
For the rotation, each participant is paired with a mentor who oversees the student and provides ongoing academic and career guidance following the rotation experience. Each participant may pre-select a mentor for their rotation or ask for assistance in arranging a mentoring partnership with an ASCO member. Following the rotation, recipients can attend the ASCO Annual Meeting to interact with additional oncology professionals. 
Oncology Summer Internship Program 
ASCO offers a month-long Oncology Summer Internship (OSI), a cohort program in partnership with U.S. medical schools to introduce medical students from populations underrepresented in medicine to key concepts and career options in oncology. In the program’s first and second years, ASCO collaborated with 11 medical schools—Baylor College of Medicine; Rutgers New Jersey Medical School; Ohio State University; University of Arizona Health Sciences College of Medicine–Tucson; University of California, San Francisco; University of Kansas; University of Michigan; University of Mississippi; University of Pennsylvania; University of Pittsburgh; and University of Rochester—to support a total of 81 rising second-year medical students through daily clinical shadowing and weekly social events at their school, as well as virtual ASCO education sessions with oncologists from across the U.S. 
Applications for institutions to be considered as a host site typically open in the fall of each year. 
“I had an amazing summer experience that further cultivated my interest in oncology and exposed me to areas of oncology that I would not have been aware of otherwise,” said past participant Natalie Doe, a medical student at the Ohio State University College of Medicine. “I left the OSI program with numerous connections, newfound mentors, and a summer experience that I will never forget.” 
ASCO Annual Meeting Research Award (AMRA) for Underrepresented Populations 
Non-oncology medical residents from underrepresented populations are eligible to apply for the AMRA. Participants attend the ASCO Annual Meeting and present their research at the Abstract Forum for Medical Students and Residents. AMRA recipients meet with oncologists to learn more about career options in the field and receive a $1,500 award and complimentary ASCO Annual Meeting registration. 
Abstract Forum for Medical Students and Residents 
This annual event provides an opportunity for medical students and residents to present their oncology-related research and receive feedback on their presentations in an intimate venue. In 2022, the forum was offered as a two-part hybrid event with an in-person presentation event at the ASCO Annual Meeting in June and a virtual presentation event in July. This hybrid format will continue to be offered in future years to ensure participation in this activity remains accessible to and inclusive of all students and residents. 
ASCO accepts abstract submissions for the Abstract Forum for Medical Students and Residents annually between November and February, and applications for both the forum and AMRA typically open in February, four months before the ASCO Annual Meeting.
Diversity Mentoring Program 
The ASCO Diversity Mentoring Program is designed to encourage U.S.-based medical students and residents from underrepresented populations to explore their oncology interests through a structured mentoring relationship. The program seeks to educate physicians-in-training about rewarding careers in oncology by fostering relationships with mentors who can provide career and educational guidance and serve as a professional resource throughout their training. The 6- to 12-month program begins in December, with applications for the following year opening in January. Applications for the 2023 program will open in November 2022. 

Professional Development With a Global Reach 

ASCO is committed to learning from oncologists around the world and helping to improve the quality of care for patients with cancer across the globe. One of the ways the Society works to achieve these goals is through fostering professional development opportunities for members who practice outside of the U.S.—a community that represents about one-third of ASCO’s total membership. Two programs that are helping to connect early-career oncologists in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) with ASCO mentors are the International Development and Education Award (IDEA) and the Long-term International Fellowship (LIFe)
The IDEA program provides support for early-career oncologists and facilitates the sharing of knowledge between them and ASCO members by pairing IDEA recipients with a leading member mentor to develop long-term relationships aimed at improving cancer care in their countries. 
Each year, recipients selected for this award come together at the ASCO Annual Meeting to meet their mentors and one another. They arrive in Chicago before the meeting begins to visit McCormick Place, receive leadership training, network, and learn more about ASCO. Once the Annual Meeting begins, the cohort attends scientific and educational sessions, the Conquer Cancer Grants and Awards Ceremony, the President’s Reception, and the World Oncology Leaders reception. After the ASCO Annual Meeting concludes, the group visits a host institution to spend several days learning about that institution’s practices alongside their peers. 
Applications for this program open in early August for the following year. 
This fellowship provides early-career oncologists in LMICs with the support and resources needed to advance their training by deepening their relationship with a mentor at a host institution in the United States, Canada, or Europe. During the one-year fellowship, recipients receive training and experience that they use to effect change in cancer care in their home countries. The fellows receive a one-year grant to fund personnel, research, and travel expenses, including travel to the ASCO Annual Meeting. 
Applications for the LIFe program are now open; the deadline to apply is January 31, 2023. 

Engaging Medical Students and Early-Career Professionals 

ASCO offers many additional career development programs for students and early-career professionals: 
Support for Oncology Student Interest Groups 
At more than 100 medical schools across the globe, ASCO supports Oncology Student Interest Groups (OSIG), which are organized groups of medical students and/or residents who share a common interest in the field of oncology and meet regularly to learn more about cancer, patient care, and pursuing a career in oncology. Each group is independently run by student leaders and, as part of their ASCO support, receives funding and access to specialized career development resources, mentoring opportunities, and events. The groups are designed to bring these young professionals together to socialize and network, fostering collegiality.  
Of the 102 groups that registered to date, 18 are outside of the U.S. (nearly 20%), and ASCO is seeking to increase this number. Applications for the 2023-2024 OSIG term will open in August 2023.  
Trainee and Early Career (TEC) Advisory Group  
The TEC Advisory Group is a volunteer group for trainee and early-career members that steers ASCO’s initiatives for members all along the medical training and early-career continuum. The group contributes to the Trainee and Early Career Lounge programming at the ASCO Annual Meeting, ASCO Connection, and more. To be considered for a position in this group, ASCO members must currently be enrolled in an oncology training program or within their first five years post–oncology subspecialty training. Interested applicants should indicate “Trainee & Early Career Development” as a volunteer interest area in their ASCO volunteer application.
Virtual Mentoring Program 
The Virtual Mentoring Program is a year-long structured mentorship program available to trainee and early-career members. Mentees are paired with a more experienced oncologist, and the pair work together to address the mentee’s goals through virtual meetings and mentoring workshops. 
Situational Mentoring  
One-time, one-on-one meetings are available for trainee and early-career members to meet with a more experienced oncologist to receive career advice. Virtual meeting opportunities are offered throughout the year, and in-person meetings are offered at the ASCO Annual Meeting. 
ASCO Trainee Reviewer Mentoring Program 
This annual program pairs selected mentees with experienced journal-reviewer mentors to help trainees and early-career professionals enhance their peer-reviewing skills and submit supervised team reviews to ASCO journals. 
ASCO Journals Editorial Fellowship 
The ASCO Journals Editorial Fellowship is designed to provide trainees and early-career professionals (within one year of post-subspecialty training) with a broader understanding of the scientific publishing process through one-on-one mentorship with editors and hands-on experiences in peer review and publishing of medical research manuscripts. 
Please contact with questions and for information on additional professional development and mentoring opportunities. 
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