At the core of the Med Students SOAR program is a rich and rigorous curriculum of biomedical research. Students in our program will participate in: research under the mentorship of faculty including formulation of an Individual Development Plan (IDP), asynchronous or in-person education, and clinical observerships. In research, students will work side by side with some of the leading scientists and clinical investigators in the world. Under the direction of a faculty member, each student will be assigned a unique research project related to the research goals of that particular research group as described above. Individual projects could range from laboratory investigations in the cellular, molecular, immunologic, or genetic aspects of cancer to clinical studies and clinical trials. Students, with their mentors, will complete an IDP and create SMART (specific, measurable, attainable relevant, time-bound) goals. Lectures on current research topics, journal clubs, faculty research talks, and small group investigations will help students to understand up-to-date topics and cutting-edge research technologies while they gain insight into the fundamentals of experimental design and data analysis.
Research areas. At least 80% of the research experience will be focused on the mentored cancer research and technical training, while up to 20% of students’ time (<8 hours per week) will be spent on oncology learning and professional development. Three key areas of cancer research—basic, translational, and clinical—are included in this program; prevention research will not be covered in the program because it is within the scope of the CPRTP program. Specifically:
1. Basic research covers the foundational knowledge needed to make advancements in the diagnosis and treatmentof cancer. The purpose of basic science cancer research is to increase our understanding of how fundamental biological processes work. The information covered provides the foundation for the translational and clinical research that follows. MD Anderson's basic science research spans many disciplines, including cellular and molecular biology, immunology, genetics and genomics, biochemistry, systems biology, and physiology.
2. Translational cancer research facilitates the movement of new ideas and treatments from the laboratory to the clinic, as well as the movement of clinical observations from the clinic to the laboratory. The aim of our program is to advance the progress of research for the clinical benefit of our patients by fostering and expanding multidisciplinary collaborative interactions among MD Anderson faculty and with external companies and institutions.
3. Clinical research at MD Anderson is pioneering early detection and treatment, personalized care, and immunotherapy. It is key to achieving our goal of “Making Cancer History.”
a. Early detection and treatment - The Red and Charline McCombs Institute for the Early Detection and Treatment of Cancer brings together thought leaders in 6 key areas of biomedical research to focus on molecular-based approaches to cancer diagnosis and treatment.
b. Personalized cancer care - The MD Anderson Cancer Center Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Institute for Personalized Cancer Therapy is home to an integrated clinical cancer research and clinical trials program that is aimed at implementing personalized cancer therapy and improving patient outcomes.
c. Immunotherapy - MD Anderson has more than 160 open clinical trials testing drugs and cellular therapies that stimulate and support the immune system’s attack against many different types of cancer.
1. Oncology Content and Knowledge
- Cancer Biology Bootcamp – this is a pre-recorded five 1.5 hr video series that features lectures on cancer fundamentals and how to conduct research.
- Weekly Lecture Series – this is a weekly lecture series covering a wide range of cancer research topics.
- Institutional grand rounds and department-specific events – Each department hosts various educational events including lecture series, journal clubs, ethics difficult-case reviews, and morbidity and mortality conferences. All these events are posted on the internal MD Anderson website and available to our students.
2. Professional Development
- Career conversations with clinical and physician-scientist faculty. A panel of 1-3 faculty members will present a 5- to 10-minute talk about their research and careers. These sessions will provide the opportunity for informal conversations between the faculty and students aimed at providing students with information to help them decide future career and research paths. Themes, such as “How to be a Compassionate Physician”, “Importance of Diversity in Cancer Care”, “How to Choose the Right Cancer Career Path”, and “How to Incorporate Research in your Cancer Career” will be discussed.
- Near-peer mentoring with residents, fellows or postdocs. These 1:1 events are aimed at enhancing relationships and facilitating communication between the medical students and their near-peers. These informal mentoring platforms will provide a safe space for students to ask questions and to build relationships with other student peers.
- Writing and presentation skills workshops. Through workshops and clinics in collaboration with the Postdoctoral Executive Committee, students will be taught how to write an abstract, how to construct a poster and present it, and how to structure a scientific oral presentation. These tools will be necessary because, at the end of the program, all student researchers will 1) write an abstract to be published in MD Anderson’s Summer Experience Program Abstracts book, available on the MD Anderson OpenWorks repository, 2) submit a video in which they talk about their research topic for an “elevator speech” competition, and 3) present their research as a poster presentation at the Final Exposition.
- Diversity and inclusion workshops. This will lectures/career conversations and workshops that will cover topics such as health care disparities, unconscious bias, cultural awareness, and diversity and inclusion. The aim of these sessions is to create an environment of cultural diversity in which individual differences are treated with transparency, value, and respect. The tools gained from these activities are aimed to help to improve the educational experience and ultimately the workplace environment.
Students may sign up for electives based on individual interest to observe in surgery, diagnostic and interventional radiology, cancer medicine, anesthesiology, pathology and laboratory medicine, pediatrics, radiation oncology, and the Institute for Personalized Cancer Therapy. Half-day clinical observerships will be available under the guidance of our faculty and staff and must be coordinated with the student’s ongoing research schedule. Students will be allowed to sign up for a maximum of 5 half-days of clinical observations during the 8- to 10-week training, respectively.
In the Med Students SOAR program, simulation training will be done in two parts: part 1 will increase knowledge and technical expertise, while part 2 will develop teamwork and communication skills. Specifically, part 1 will be video-led didactic and hands-on simulation training on conducting an oncology-focused history and physical. Part 2 will be team training for the medical management of patients in oncologic distress that will include our first-year medical students as well as other health professionals such as nursing and students from the School of Health Professions (SHP).