OSI Program Inspires UIM Medical Students to Pursue Oncology

October 3, 2023

ASCO’s Oncology Summer Internship (OSI) program continues to thrive.

At the conclusion of its third year, the program began as part of the Society's ongoing efforts to increase the diversity of the oncology workforce. The four-week summer program is an immersive internship for rising second-year medical students from populations underrepresented in medicine (UIM) and introduces them to the field of oncology.

From left to right: Mike Allevato, Kalese Goodwin, Amanda Rivas, Sofia Pedroza

"As oncologists and educators, it's inspiring to work with students and show how rewarding this specialty can be. We hope this program will accelerate the necessary diversification of our physician workforce," said Dr. Gerald Hsu, MD, PhD, Oncology Fellowship Program Director at UCSF.
During their internships, students receive extensive shadowing, weekly education sessions on key oncology concepts, and enjoy networking. In 2023, 51 students were selected from 11 institutions. (For full list of schools, see list at bottom of this article.)

Students Share Why They Applied
ASCO spoke to four of this year’s OSI participants, who each shared their experiences with the program, including the personal reasons they were motivated to pursue oncology.

As a child, Amanda Rivas watched her mother face multiple cancer diagnoses. She died from a recurrence of ovarian cancer during Amanda’s senior year of college. In many ways, pursuing the oncology summer internship was a natural fit for the medical student, who learned early in life how important it is for everyone to have access to compassionate care.

"Growing up, oncologists were my superheroes because they gave my mother a second and third chance at life," said Amanda, now at the University of Michigan Medical School. "Having no physicians in my family they were the first ones to inspire me to pursue medicine and pay forward the care my mother received to other families."

"The ASCO OSI program offers much more than shadowing and mentorship," she added. "It speaks directly to my core values which are cultural humility, advocacy, and tenacity."

For Mike Allevato, also a student at Michigan, the internship served as the “perfect avenue to merge my academic background with practical, patient-centered experience.”

“My motivation for applying to this program was to gain a deeper understanding of clinical oncology and to experience first-hand how our efforts in the lab can translate to improving patient outcomes,” said Mike, whose grandfather died from colon cancer.

Sofia Pedroza lost her grandmother to lung cancer and uncle to pancreatic cancer. She was already interested in medicine, but these experiences sparked her interest in oncology.

“It helped me better understand how swift cancer can act, how it can go unnoticed for so long, and how it affects not only the patient but everyone around them,” said Sofia, who attends Baylor Medical School.

Kalese Goodwin, a student at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, said she was moved to study medicine and oncology after witnessing her great-grandmother’s battle with breast cancer.

“My passion within the field of medicine lies in the area of Black women’s health, and knowing my great grandmother was one of many Black women who are disproportionately affected by the adverse outcomes of breast cancer inspired me to find solutions to this problem,” Kalese said.

Improving equity and representation in health care also motivated Amanda.

"Growing up, I never had a female, Hispanic physician," she said. “It was not until I entered my mid-twenties that I noticed residents who looked like me or shared the same cultural background ... Looking to the future, I would love for this experience to come full circle by being a physician who would be involved with a program like ASCO to help recruit minority students to enter fields that do not have enough cultural representation."

Student perspectives on Annual Meeting, OSI, and the world of clinical oncology
All of the students told ASCO that the internship provided them with invaluable insights into the world of clinical oncology.

“The unique blend of research and clinical exposure allowed me to understand the translational aspects of oncology better and see how our efforts in the lab can have a real impact on patients,” Mike said. “This experience reaffirmed my commitment to pursuing a career in this field and exposed me to the multi-faceted nature of patient care, giving me a clearer picture of my future role as a physician-scientist.”

Said Kalese, “The ASCO program has exposed me to multiple fields within oncology with a unique aspect being that it was at my home institution. I thoroughly enjoyed shadowing physicians and surgeons, many of which were willing to mentor and give insight in their day-to-day schedules.”

This year’s interns were also invited to attend ASCO’s annual meeting in Chicago. During the event, they learned about the latest research, attended different sessions, and networked with the oncology community.

“I sat in on multiple research presentations and gained knowledge on some of the amazing research projects in oncology,” said Kalese, who added that, “meeting fellow underrepresented students from across the country all interested in oncology was such a pleasure.”

“This journey has been incredibly rewarding thus far,” Mike said. “From the laboratory to the clinic, I've had the chance to learn, grow, and understand the complexities of cancer biology and patient care. My interactions with patients have been especially enlightening, reminding me of the very real, human side of this scientific pursuit. I am looking forward to continuing this path and working towards my goal of becoming a physician-scientist in oncology.”

The students also said they were grateful for having a break from school to really explore the specialty of oncology without worrying about time, or other competing academic priorities.

“The internship was the perfect opportunity for me to learn firsthand about a variety of different specialties within oncology," Sofia said. "This program succeeded in immersing me in oncology and its many niches—hematology, pathology, radiation, and surgery. Further, it has gifted me lifelong mentors that I trust I can reach out to for guidance and help in the future—physicians who genuinely care about my success. Being in-clinic with patients has also reminded me why I chose medicine in the first place, which was so valuable as a rising MS2 amid endless flashcards and bookwork. I left the program feeling more knowledgeable and re-inspired.”

This year’s participating OSI schools were: Baylor College of Medicine, The Ohio State University, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, University of Arizona College of Medicine - Tucson, University of California San Francisco School of Medicine, University of Kansas School of Medicine, University of Michigan Medical School, University of Mississippi School of Medicine, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Interested in applying for next year’s OSI? ASCO is accepting proposals from interested medical schools for the 2024 OSI through October 9, 2023. For more information about OSI, visit asco.org.

Learn more about ASCO's ongoing health equity work, including additional efforts to diversify the oncology workforce, at asco.org/equity.

The Oncology Summer Internship Program is funded through Conquer Cancer®, the ASCO Foundation, by these generous donors: Bristol Myers Squibb, Gilead Sciences, Inc., McKesson Foundation, Novartis Oncology, R & D Impact Foundation, and Conquer Cancer Mission endowment.