Oncology Summer Internship Program Aims to Increase Diversity in Oncology Workforce

Five medical schools named as hosts in ASCO pilot program for medical students from populations underrepresented in medicine
April 7, 2021

As part of its ongoing efforts to increase the diversity of the oncology workforce, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) is launching a new internship program for medical students from populations underrepresented in medicine (UIM)1, and today announced five medical schools across the country that have been selected to serve as hosts in the inaugural Oncology Summer Internship (OSI) program. The selected medical schools include: The Ohio State University; the University of Arizona Health Sciences College of Medicine – Tucson; the University of California San Francisco (UCSF); the University of Pittsburgh; and the University of Rochester.

The National Academy of Medicine has recognized the need to diversify the physician workforce as a way to improve health disparities.2 While the U.S. population is more than 13% Black and 19% Hispanic or Latino, only 5% of practicing physicians are Black and 5.8% are Hispanic/Latino. An even greater disparity exists in oncology; only 3% of practicing oncologists are Black and only 4.7% are Hispanic or Latino.3,4

“We have long understood that a diverse oncology workforce is a critical component to increasing equity in cancer care and outcomes,” said ASCO President Lori J. Pierce, MD, FASTRO, FASCO. “This program will help us cultivate a diverse oncology workforce by connecting and supporting students of color as they are beginning their career in medicine. We hope that participants in this program will recognize the rewards a career in oncology offers and will go on to engage in many other ASCO initiatives to support their professional development.”

The OSI is an immersive, four-week summer internship for rising second year UIM medical students. More than thirty students that attend the host medical schools will participate in the 2021 internship, which will feature a hybrid curriculum developed by mentoring and education experts serving on ASCO’s OSI Advisory Group.

Each day, students will participate in ASCO-hosted virtual education seminars led by national leaders in oncology, and will accompany and learn from oncology faculty at their medical school or in their local area. Students will also be matched with a virtual mentor, who will meet with them weekly to provide guidance, answer questions, and support their career growth. Networking and social events will be offered several times per week so that students can network with oncology mentors and interact with fellow OSI students to build connections within their own medical schools and across the country. 

“As a medical student, I had the opportunity to have comprehensive exposure to the field of oncology, which led me to the fulfilling career I have today,” said Nadine J. McCleary, MD, MPH, Chair of ASCO’s Oncology Summer Internship Advisory Group. “Unfortunately, we know that only a small number of UIM medical students have chosen to specialize in oncology. It’s up to us to show students how rewarding a career in oncology is, to introduce them to leaders in the field, including leaders who look like them, and to demonstrate how ASCO will support them as they enter training and over the course of their career. We hope this program can help us make progress towards all of those critical goals.” 

In 2017, ASCO published a strategic plan to help guide the Society’s efforts to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the oncology workforce. A primary goal of the strategic plan is to build a longitudinal pathway for UIM trainees to receive exposure to oncology subspecialties, mentorship opportunities in oncology, and support in their pursuit of a career in oncology. The OSI program will provide ongoing career development opportunities for participants and builds upon the other ASCO programs in this longitudinal pathway, including: 

The inspiration for the OSI comes from the Harvard Medical School’s Poussaint Pre-matriculation Summer Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which was established in 1970 to prepare UIM students for success at Harvard Medical School by offering courses in basic science. The program has expanded to include coursework, seminars, and clinical shadowing to provide students with a better understanding of career options in oncology. 

The Oncology Summer Internship program is supported by Conquer Cancer, The ASCO Foundation. Student participants will receive a stipend to support their full engagement in the OSI and a travel stipend to attend the ASCO Annual Meeting the year following their OSI participation. 

Program application was open to all U.S. medical schools with an oncology department or division. Schools were selected based on their ability to meet program requirements and commitment to implementing the program at least through the ASCO-supported term. ASCO will announce the 2022 application process in August 2021.

Learn more about ASCO’s ongoing health equity work, including additional efforts to diversify the oncology workforce, at asco.org/equity.


1 Association of American Medical Colleges: Underrepresented in Medicine Definition: https://www.aamc.org/what-we-do/diversity-inclusion/underrepresented-in-medicine
2 Smedley B, Stith A, Nelson A. Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care. Washington, DC, National Academies Press, 2002
3 United States Census Bureau Quick Facts: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/PST045219
Association of American Medical Colleges: Diversity in Medicine: Facts and Figures, 2019. https://www.aamc.org/data-reports/workforce/interactive-data/active-physicians-sex-and-specialty-2019