Pediatric cancer is the leading cause of death in childhood from medical conditions in the US. Thus, pediatric cancer education is important for pediatricians and family medicine physicians, so that cancer can be diagnosed early, when it is most curable. Cancer research is vital to developing cancer cures. The Pediatric Oncology Education (POE) program provides knowledge and experience to motivate promising students to consider careers in cancer research and related areas. Particular attention is given to including students from groups under-represented among oncology scientists and clinicians. Program participants are outstanding pre- doctoral biomedical science and health professions students interested in oncology careers. All participants are US citizens or permanent residents. Their tenure is 11 weeks (9 weeks for medical students, 10 weeks for returnees). They are matched with a St. Jude faculty mentor with similar research interests and participate in the mentor's ongoing research program. They attend institutional clinical and basic research conferences, as well as a Lunch &Learn series designed specifically for them. They shadow an oncologist and observe in surgery. They give a PowerPoint presentation on their research project in the Lunch &Learn series and submit a project report written in the style of a journal in which their mentor publishes. The POE program is advertised by word of mouth, our web site, by mail to over 1300 US university science faculty, cancer researchers, medical schools, historically under-represented minority (URM) colleges and universities, and by St Jude Academic Programs recruiters at numerous major scientific meetings (including the major URM science student meetings). Each year, 400 - 500 students apply for the program. The 2010 acceptance rate was 11.1% (51 of 460 applicants), and the class average undergraduate GPA was 3.825. Of 308 participants in 2005-2010, 51 (16.6%) were URM, and 189 (61.3%) were females. Many (21.1% in 2005-2010) return for an additional appointment, thus reinforcing their cancer education and research experience. To date, 1997-2009 program participants are co-authors on 200 peer-reviewed St. Jude publications. Ongoing assessment and evaluation of the program is provided by pre- and post-experience testing of the student's knowledge of pediatric cancer and related areas, and by post-experience surveys completed by all students and mentors. Experienced cancer educators from prominent cancer centers reviewed the program as on-site consultants in 2005 and 2009. A long-term tracking process is in place. Of the 696 participants who have finished their academic degree work, 596 (85.6%) hold a doctorate, including 146 (76.8%) of 190 URM in the cohort. Of the 893 participants since 1978, 176 (19.7%) have a cancer career goal, and 88 (9.9%) are already in cancer-committed careers. The Program Director reports on the program regularly to the American Association for Cancer Education (AACE). She received the 2009 Margaret Hay Edwards Achievement Medal for sustained outstanding contributions to cancer education, the highest honor bestowed by the AACE.
The Pediatric Oncology Education (POE) Program introduces outstanding biomedical science and health professions students to the latest pediatric cancer research, treatment and prevention approaches. It provides them an opportunity to do high quality, contemporary cancer-related research with a faculty mentor, and encourages them to pursue careers in cancer research and/or cancer patient management.
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