The summer between first and second year of medical school is technically the last full summer vacation of our careers–but even so, the majority of my class (and probably medical students in general at this point) chose to explore different research/shadowing experiences during this break. I was super excited to have the opportunity to be a fellow in the Cancer in the Under-Privileged, Indigent or Disadvantaged (CUPID) Summer Translational Oncology Program (phew! that’s a mouthful).
Most summer programs for medical student are research focused, with potentially some shadowing. CUPID is unique in that it’s a combination of research, shadowing, advocacy, and education that is centered around ideas of healthcare disparities and cancer. We were all placed in basic science labs doing heme/onc related research, with the addition of lunch lectures every day about a breadth of topics from making breast cancer detection more accessible through ultrasound in underserved areas to more accurate diversity representation in clinical trials.
The research and lunch lectures constituted the majority of the program. This was a fun combination of learning new lab skills and getting to hang out every day with an awesome group of peers/doctors at lunch. One of the best parts of CUPID was how instrumental and kind the directors of the program are–they actively participated in enhancing the lecture content everyday, provided advice about medical school and career pathways, and continue to serve as strong advocates of our medicine journeys/success.
For the advocacy component of the program, we attended a cancer survivorship-based advocacy conference in Washington D.C. called the Cancer Policy and Advocacy Team (CPAT). This was a 2 day conference where we had the opportunity to hear from cancer survivors and learn about gaps in survivorship care, discuss grief and loss, highlight disparities in cancer, and learn how to advocate for change. And then, on the second day, we actually lobbied directly to our senators/representatives about bills that would promote better care for cancer survivors.
The last part of the program was shadowing different oncologists. We shadowed medical and radiation oncology with physicians who are excellent physicians, scientists, and patient advocates. Shadowing is always a fun experience–especially in this stage of our education when actual doctoring can still feel like a distant dream.
Overall, the program was a wonderful way to spend my last summer “vacation” because of the uniquely rounded education it provided and community it built. Sounds cliché, but the people in the program really brightened my entire year & continue to be great friends/mentors.
At some point I was sitting in the corner of the CPAT conference room watching everyone passionately talk about the issues they’ve faced as cancer survivors, and I had this epiphany that every single niche of medicine has its own personal set of social, economic, political, and scientific problems. Even as a first year medical student, I had heard from oncologists advocating about survivorship plans/depression, endocrinologists navigating diabetics socially struggling with managing chronic disease/insulin prices, pediatricians concerned about adolescent moms who can’t consent to their own birth control, and on and on. And as I continued to hear these speakers talk about drug prices and insurance hurdles, I thought: the specialty I will ultimately land on will not only be about whose science and schedule I like, but also a decision about which niche I will be passionate about advocating for my patients for inside and outside the hospital.
I’m so glad I got to do this program not only because it was super fun, but because it empowered me to feel like I had the power to advocate for change and also defined my goals for what I want my role as a doctor to encompass. At the end of the summer, I decided I wanted to continue integrating CUPID themes of education/research, advocacy, and healthcare disparities into the rest of my medical school career through our schools’ concentration project, outreach clinic, and state physician advocacy group. While enacting those goals is a process, it’s a journey that was very much sparked by the light CUPID ignited.