Geriatric Oncology Team Develops Student Enrichment Program

Jul. 1, 2022

A Wilmot Cancer Institute team is working to remove some of the barriers that may prevent those underrepresented in academic research careers from continuing on in the field through a new student enrichment program.

Geriatric oncology researcher Nikesha Gilmore, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Surgery, Division of Supportive Care in Cancer, wanted to focus on the fact that many students from disadvantaged backgrounds may have limited resources financially but also in terms of knowing the ins and outs of academic medicine. This lack of resources and access to knowledge can make it harder to continue a career in academia.

“Most of it is a systemic and structural issue we can’t fix on our own, but what we can do is help support students and help break some of the barriers that they may be facing to help them to take that next step,” Gilmore says.

Gilmore and her team kicked off a student enrichment program in Geriatric Oncology this past semester, which then became incorporated into the URCC NCI Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP) in the Department of Surgery, Division of Supportive Care in Cancer this summer. 

The program, “EmREACh: Empowering Students through Research Enrichment Activities in Cancer Control and Cancer Care Delivery,” aims to try to give students from underrepresented backgrounds that chance to learn about academic medicine first hand, while getting paid. The program is funded through a variety of mechanisms, including Geriatric Oncology, Community Outreach and Engagement, and NCORP Cancer Control Research (CCR) and Cancer Care Delivery Research (CCDR) pilot funds.

The organizing committee for the program includes Allison Magnuson, D.O., M.S., associate professor in the Department of Medicine, Hematology/Oncology; Sindhuja Kadambi, M.D., M.S. assistant professor in the Department of Medicine, Hematology/Oncology; as well as Chandrika Sanapala, Charles Levin, and Fiona Stauffer from the Geriatric Oncology Research Program.

The Geriatric Oncology research program and division in Supportive Care in Cancer has had work-study positions and student workers for many years, but this new initiative aims to formalize the learning process by strategically addressing specific barriers students from underrepresented backgrounds may face as the pursue careers in academic medicine.

“We realized we had such resources in our program to be able to show students how the path can unfold,” Magnuson said. “We had an opportunity to set up this more structured program.”

In the program, students will learn how to write abstracts, work on a discreet research project, be paired with mentors, and shadow with the SOCARE geriatric clinic or the Wilmot Community Outreach and Engagement Office, among other opportunities.

“If you think of a student who wants to become a physician and came from a physician family versus a student who is a first-generation student and doesn’t understand process of becoming a physician, it’s harder for these students to see what opportunities they need to look for in undergrad to become very competitive and that’s where we can help,” Gilmore says.

Since starting at the beginning of the spring 2022 semester, nine students have enrolled in the program. They worked 10 to 20 hours per week during the semester and are now working 40 hours during the summer months.

Three students have presented their research projects at meetings. All students have completed clinical shadowing and have received training on clinical and research procedures. Seven mentors from Wilmot have spent time with the students and 16 speakers have committed to participate in professional development activities.

“The program is going very well,” Gilmore says. “We are humbled by the outpouring of support we have received. We had more faculty interested in supporting the students with the professional development activities than we had slots for. We are also grateful for all the pilot funds that we have been able to secure to support this program and for the mentors who are willing to work with the students. We are all so proud of what the students have achieved! They are so dedicated to their future careers and we are so privileged to be able to assist them along this journey. We hope to continue the efforts within this program and to find ways by which the program can be sustainable for years to come.”