A Fellow’s Perspective of the ASCO Annual Meeting: Making the Most of Your Time

Apr 28, 2015

By Maria T. Bourlon, MD
Instituto Nacional De Ciencias Médicas y Nutrición Salvador Zubirán

Oncology is a field that has seen great advances in the past decades. Today, multidisciplinary treatment is mandatory for most cancer types; medical oncologists need to interact with surgical oncologists and radiation oncologists in order to provide high-quality patient care. Oncologists must be familiar not only with chemotherapy, but with prescribing hormone therapy, immunotherapy, biologic therapy, and targeted agents. In our everyday practice, we are committed to enrolling patients in clinical trials in order to discover new and better treatments. As we have become better at treating neoplasms, we now need to provide support for cancer survivors.

Consequently, becoming an oncologist in these times is a challenging endeavor. Little by little, year by year, decade by decade, major advances have occurred related to cancer biology and treatment. As a trainee, you need to learn all of this history, and at the same time you need keep up with all the new therapeutic discoveries and best patient care data. Staying current is a major challenge in medical oncology. Hundreds of symposia are available all over the world to help update and educate medical oncologists. With restricted time and resources during your fellowship program, the inevitable question is which meeting to attend.

My answer, without doubt, is to go to the ASCO Annual Meeting!

The ASCO Annual Meeting provides a unique opportunity for fellows in every facet of their training. ASCO has become the biggest oncology meeting in the world and it provides a platform for the release of thousands of scientific abstracts and highly anticipated research news. High-quality cancer research performed all over the world is presented here.

As you can imagine, the amount of data presented at the ASCO Annual Meeting can result in an overwhelming experience for fellows. It can be hard to identify the most important data in your early years as an oncologist. ASCO has designed specific sessions to help with this:

  • At Highlights of the Day Sessions, expert discussants present key findings, put abstracts into clinical context, and provide an overview of the previous day’s Oral Abstract Sessions.
  • At Poster Discussion Sessions, expert discussants highlight the most clinically applicable and novel posters, with abstract authors participating as panel members. These sessions are followed by networking with discussants and authors and provide a way to identify relevant information.
  • Education Sessions offer an interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary exploration of focused areas of clinical oncology and are ideal for members in training.

Maria T. Bourlon, MD
Institution: Instituto Nacional De Ciencias Médicas y Nutrición Salvador Zubirán, Mexico
Member since: 2013
ASCO activities: Professional Development Committee, Cancer Communications Committee, 2013 International Development and Education Award recipient


An additional concern while attending sessions is whether you will recall the relevant information. You don’t need to worry! ASCO offers Virtual Meeting, so after the Meeting you can have access to slides and presentations online. Even if you missed a session, you can still have access to it through this resource. If you’re attending the Annual Meeting, you receive free access to Virtual Meeting as part of your registration.

My favorite moment in the Meeting is the Plenary Session, when scientific research with the highest merit and practice-changing results is released for the first time. It is the most exciting event at the ASCO Annual Meeting. Learning about a treatment that can cure patients or improve their survival is a true joy for those of us dedicated to cancer care. After getting to know this new data, you are committed to incorporating the results into your everyday practice in your own milieu. You are challenged to find a way to do it efficiently in order to improve patient care and outcomes.

ASCO is aware of our unique needs as fellows! Make sure you drop by the Trainee & Junior Faculty Member Lounge (Room S501). You’ll find key information in terms of how to navigate the Annual Meeting. Mentors with expertise in every field of oncology volunteer to assist fellows on guided Poster Walks or discuss Meeting Highlights in small-group sessions. This exposure will definitely help you to better define your interest in a specific field of oncology. If you happen to be interested in the publication of research results, you’ll have the opportunity to meet with editors of the Journal of Oncology Practice and Journal of Clinical Oncology. The editors do a fantastic job of providing crucial information on how to submit a manuscript and answer any questions you may have. As a medical oncology fellow, you might be thinking about whether to pursue a career in academics, private practice, or in another arena such as the pharmaceutical industry. Speakers in the lounge offer brief talks about career transitions in these different fields.

As an international member of ASCO, I was interested early in my career in the opportunities that were available for foreign physicians. The Annual Meeting is an excellent time to become more familiar with these opportunities. Find information on grant opportunities for non-U.S. citizens at the Trainee & Junior Faculty Member Lounge, including the Merit Award, International Development and Education Award, Long-term International Fellowship, Young investigator Award, and Career Development Award. These grants and awards all constitute wonderful opportunities to build meaningful relationships that enable the exchange of ideas and experiences with mentors in the United States or Canada. As a recipient, you are poised to play a pivotal role in enhancing our global understanding of cancer and improving our ability to provide quality care to people with cancer, no matter where you are in the world.

Make the most of your time and do not miss the 2015 ASCO Annual Meeting!

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