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Planting a Seed of Leadership for Women in Oncology

Sept. 22, 2022

The Summer Healthcare Experience (SHE) in Oncology, created by Dell Medical School’s Livestrong Cancer Institutes in 2019, is an immersive virtual program that occurs over a two-week span each summer. It is designed to empower high school students who identify as female from across the nation to conduct cancer research, learn about the vast range opportunities within the field of oncology and engage deeply in health equity, patient advocacy, and personal and professional leadership skills.

SHE — along with the generous support of the American Cancer Society and the program’s ten participating academic cancer centers across the U.S. — aims to address the deficit of women in leadership roles within oncology and the health sciences, and determine whether fostering inclusive and engaging oncology experiences early women’s educational pathways helps reverse gender disparities in the field.

S. Gail Eckhardt, M.D., FASCO, who leads the Cancer Institutes and was recognized by the American Society of Clinical Oncology as one of the “Women Who Conquer Cancer,” weaves mentorship throughout her varied and expansive work, and serves as model of women leadership in oncology for those in the SHE program.

Before looking ahead to next year’s program, SHE is excited to share the experiences of three of this year’s students.

Jimena: Senior, Rockdale High School
Career Goal: Health Care Researcher

My favorite part about SHE was being able to have a fully functional at-home lab. It was amazing being able to make solutions, look at organisms under a microscope and collect data all from my room.

Jimena, a 2022 SHE participant holds a test tube partially filled with a liquid. In the background: a laptop and varying science equipment.

While participating in the SHE program, I was able to listen to people who study health care disparities in oncology. It was very impactful to listen to the issues around oncology equity, because as a minority, I have seen and experienced health care disparities; however, I had never thought of the health care equity issue on a worldwide scale or how the issue affected people with cancer.

From a very young age, I always knew that I wanted to help people — especially underrepresented populations — obtain better and equal access to health care. Yet, I thought that to do this I had to be a nurse or a physician, but because of SHE, I was able to discover that I do not have to be a doctor to make an impact in health care. I now plan on being a community-based researcher to help bridge the gap between health care and disparities in oncology care.

Valeria: Junior, Weiss High School
Career Goal: Neuroscientist or Biomedical 

My favorite part of SHE was getting the chance to experiment with fruit flies and listening to all the amazing people who talked to us about cancer and related fields. 

Valeria, a 2022 SHE participant holds a test tube, with varying paperwork and science equipment in the background.

I also liked the overall purpose of SHE, which is to introduce and encourage more women to become a part of cancer research, or just be involved in addressing disparities within oncology, including being aware of what is going on in the world — like women being underrepresented in the medical field and being paid less than men.

In the future, I would love to study molecular biology and diseases. I would also like to find a solution to diseases, cures and how to help different health disparities. 

Nell: Junior, Anderson High School
Career Goal: Surgical Oncologist

While I do not know with certainty what my educational path will be, after participating in the SHE program, my interest in becoming a physician has solidified.

Nell, a 2022 SHE participant, holds a test tube tray with a number of tubes slotted in.

There was a genuine feeling of empowerment throughout the program, and this concept was emphasized through countless successful female scientists and physicians offering their advice and stories. It truly was an honor to see so many successful, kind, brilliant women give their time to teach and inspire us.

While I have gained research, communication and leadership skills, the most important thing I learned is that there is no linear path to success. A common theme among the speakers was their unexpected career path: Some switched areas of study entirely. Others chose to pursue a Ph.D. rather than a medical degree.

Additionally, they got to where they are now by making mistakes, changing their mind, learning, finding mentors, and most importantly, failing and recovering from failures. This is an idea I hope to carry with me as I choose my career and educational path. 

Motivated by an array of successful women who spoke to the lack of female leaders, I also know I would like to conduct research and publish in my field. I am so grateful for the opportunity to have been able to participate in the Summer Healthcare Experience in Oncology because it has aligned so well with my goals, inspired me and provided me with role models to look up to in my career journey.

Applications for next year’s program will open in March. Eligible rising high school juniors and senior in Central Texas are encouraged to apply.