Expanding Horizons: The Transformative Impact of the Annual Meeting Research Award

Mar 12, 2024

Conquer Cancer grants and awards have a profound impact on the careers of the individuals they support.   

By Sherise C. Rogers, MD, MPH  

The Spark of Passion: Witnessing Disparities   

Coming from a community marred by health care disparities, I’ve always been keenly aware of the stark impact that patients’ backgrounds and life experiences can have on cancer outcomes.  
Bearing witness to so many inequalities and injustices ignited in me a commitment to make a meaningful difference in the lives of underserved patient populations. My firsthand experiences continue to fuel my determination to address disparities in cancer care and to advocate for equitable access to oncology resources.  
A desire to address these disparities is a vital motivator in my pursuit of medicine. It’s also an ambition shared by ASCO and Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation, through the ASCO Annual Meeting Research Award (AMRA), which I was honored to receive in 2016 when it was called the Resident Travel Award. Coming from a disadvantaged background myself, I sought this award in hopes it could help turn my visions into reality. Receiving it has proven to be a pivotal turning point, instilling my career with newfound purpose and boundless possibilities.   

ASCO Annual Meeting: A Transformative Experience   

AMRA’s support enabled me to attend the 2016 ASCO Annual Meeting—an enlightening experience that significantly shaped my perspective on oncology. This convergence of cancer experts and groundbreaking research provided me with unparalleled educational and networking opportunities. The experience also offered a front-row seat to the latest advancements, breakthroughs, and evolving trends in oncology. Several sessions illuminated the intricate tapestry of oncology practice and research, exposing me to a depth of knowledge that I could not have acquired elsewhere. It also provided me with a personal and professional vision beyond what I ever imagined possible: a Black female physician-scientist and leader in health disparities.  

From Professional Development to Pursuing an Oncology Fellowship   

My AMRA experience surpassed my expectations in facilitating new opportunities for networking and research partnership. It also played a crucial role in elevating my professional development as an early-career physician-scientist. Engaging with oncology experts dedicated to addressing health care inequities not only broadened my perspective but also equipped me with essential tools for making a meaningful contribution to the field. These enriching conversations became a dynamic catalyst for collaboration and mentorship. I established a network of cancer professionals dedicated to driving change in the oncology landscape and helping me prepare for an oncology fellowship. In the process, I developed my interview skills and gained insights into navigating academia and research, enhancing my readiness to pursue future professional opportunities.   

What Drives Me: Bridging Disparities Through Research and Patient Care 

Over the course of my oncology journey, I’ve developed a profound focus on caring for patients with gastrointestinal (GI) cancers. This emphasis was deeply influenced by prevalent and notable health disparities in the GI cancer space, such as a higher incidence of pancreatic cancer in Black communities and worse outcomes, many attributed to systemic factors. The opportunity for exposure to cutting-edge research and impactful mentorship fueled my dedication to addressing the multilayered challenges faced by Black patients with GI cancers. Ensuring that cancer research and clinical trials include and uplift marginalized communities is a powerful step toward addressing disparities and providing equitable and effective treatments for every patient.   

A Stepping Stone to Future Success   

The AMRA instilled in me the confidence to pursue other prestigious awards. This ultimately resulted in me receiving the Yale University Pozen-Commonwealth Fund Fellowship in Health Equity Leadership, a Robert A. Winn Diversity in Clinical Trials Career Development Award in 2021, and recently, a Robert A. Winn Diversity in Clinical Trials Clinical Investigator Leadership Award powered by Conquer Cancer’s EveryGrant. I’m also currently completing an executive master’s degree in business administration. These opportunities have refined my ability to make a substantial impact on health disparities in cancer care, while also underscoring the important role that opportunities like the AMRA can play in doing so. The gratitude I feel because of this award compels me to give back by serving as an ASCO volunteer and mentor to other students, residents, and fellows from populations that are structurally underrepresented in medicine, especially individuals interested in oncology and cancer disparities.   
As I continue my oncology journey, I remain committed to making a lasting impact by working toward a future where cancer care is truly equitable for all. For me, the AMRA program was not just a ticket to the ASCO Annual Meeting: it was a transformative experience that opened doors, expanded horizons, and empowered me to contribute meaningfully to health equity in oncology. 
Dr. Rogers is a hematology/oncology specialist and an assistant professor at the University of Florida Health. Dr. Rogers’ clinical and research focus is on gastrointestinal malignancies with a special interest in pancreatic cancer, cancer disparities, and the microbiome. 
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