Mass General Cancer Center faculty have helped to launch a fellowship exchange program that is training clinical oncology fellows from various countries in Africa.

Faculty from the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center and the Cancer Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) launched the Program for Enhanced Training in Cancer (POETIC). This fellowship exchange program – which also partners with the Rwandan Ministry of Health – trains clinical oncology fellows from the University of Cape Town in South Africa and Ocean Road Cancer Center in Tanzania.

Upon completion, many of the trainees return to their home countries as one of a handful of oncologists …

“Our goal is to provide much-needed training for cancer specialists in the face of a rapidly increasing incidence of cancer in sub-Saharan African countries and to develop capacity by supporting these young physicians who are committed to staying in Africa,” says Aparna Parikh, MD, of the Mass General Cancer Center and POETIC co-director.

Dr. Parikh and co-directors Bruce Chabner, MD, director of Clinical Research at the Mass General Cancer Center, and Lowell Schnipper, MD, chief of Hematology/Oncology at BIDMC, started POETIC because they saw an opportunity to provide the oncology fellows access to Boston’s world-renowned cancer care and research. The co-directors collaborate with South African and Tanzanian clinicians and leadership to select candidates for the program. Upon completion, many of the trainees return to their home countries as one of a handful of oncologists – often serving populations of more than 20 million people.

Exposure to Cancer Resources

“POETIC is a timely and necessary program that has given me exposure to, and experience with, cancer resources not readily available in my routine practice in Cape Town,” says Irene Alinafe Chidothe, MD, a current POETIC participant, who plans to return to Malawi to become one of three oncologists in her home country. “It has also provided me with tools I can take back with me.”

Each POETIC trainee receives a tailored learning experience based on their specific interests.

Each POETIC trainee receives a tailored learning experience based on their specific interests. Trainees are mentored by hospital leaders and attend medical and radiation oncology conferences, tumor boards, multidisciplinary clinics and teaching sessions for three weeks at the MGH and BIDMC.

“It was great to shadow the gynecologic oncologists in the clinic and discuss cases with them,” says Nazia Faki, a former POETIC participant. “I’m determined to take what I’ve learned in POETIC home to Cape Town. I want to improve our standards of care and ensure that patients have access to cancer treatments available in developed countries.”

To date, four fellows have participated in the program and three additional fellows – from Rwanda and Tanzania – are expected in Boston to start the program later this year.

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This story first appeared in MGH Hotline.