Last summer, I acquired an internship at the Cleveland Clinic for a Summer Scholar Shadowing Program where fellow students and I were matched with a mentor in our field of interest. After having a family friend pass away from cancer and participating in Relay for Life, I wanted to be exposed to the work of the physician that treats the deadly disease. In my application, I designated oncology as my first choice and was ultimately matched with Dr. Bruno Bastos, a board-certified medical oncologist. Dr. Bastos not only taught me practical information about cancer and working in oncology, but also the importance of dealing with difficult situations and problem-solving.
During my first few days of the program, I quickly grasped the idea of the main role of a medical oncologist: the primary health care provider for cancer patients and their cancer related pain. The practice of a medical oncologist involves diagnosing and treating cancer patients through various methods, including chemotherapy, surgery, and/or radiation. By shadowing his patient consults, I was exposed to the typical oncology visits by patients who come from all walks of life.
During a patient’s first visit, Dr. Bastos would ask the patient about any cancer in the family history, whether the patient drinks or smokes, if the patient is sexually active etc. Typically, patients see the oncologist after having signs of cancer or “suspicious activity” in their mammograms or other scans and examinations. The medical oncologist will either ask for further scans, such as a computed tomography scan, or will have enough information to diagnose the patient and begin advising treatment options.
Surgery offers the best chance of cure and is an option if there is a tumor that is concentrated in one area of the body and can be removed completely or almost completely. Radiation therapy is similar to surgery in that it can only be administered if the cancer is accumulated in one area, and it involves high doses of radiation to destroy cancer cells. Finally, another common form of therapy is chemotherapy, which involves the use of chemicals to circulate through the body in order to slow cancer growth or cure cancer.
Along with individual consults, medical oncologists can work as team with other specialists, including surgeons, radiologists, and pulmonologists. Dr. Bastos calls it the “multidisciplinary approach” which maximizes quality of care for the patient because many different specialists give their take on the case. Medical oncologists can also choose to conduct research as well as consult patients, and may administer clinical trials to eligible patients to study combinations and new forms of treatment that have not yet been approved, but are in later phases of testing.
During my time with Dr. Bastos, I learned about different types of tumors, various cancer treatments, and how to interact with patients and their families in arduous circumstances. At the end of my five-week experience, I successfully presented to my mentor and other scholars on “an interesting patient,” a 52-year-old woman with metastatic head and neck cancer. My interactions with the patients as well as being exposed to the work of the profession have given me a path to aim for. Medical oncology is the field I’m interested in entering after years of training, and hopefully by the time I reach that point, the field of oncology will be revolutionized and cancer deaths per year will have decreased tremendously.