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By Lily Sandblom (MD/MPH 2024)

As I clicked the all-too-familiar blue button that read “Join Meeting,” I did not know what to expect. At that time, my first year and a half of medical school had been almost entirely in the virtual setting. Anatomy was not a physical donor’s body, but a computerized cadaver where any improper incision could be undone with the click of a button. Relationships and teaching were all centered around a computer screen and a blurred background. While this had not been the medical school experience I had once dreamed of and imagined when opening my acceptance letter years prior, it had taught me the value that was to be found in technology and how we can use it to our benefit to connect us with people throughout the world.

I reflected on this as I joined my first ASCO Virtual Mentoring Program meeting over Zoom. After being selected for the program, I had the opportunity to peruse through the star-studded list of mentors available. I was both excited and overwhelmed to find out that I had been paired with my first-choice mentor, Dr. Larissa Nekhlyudov. What developed over the next 12 months was a meaningful and beneficial mentorship that spanned states and time zones.

Dr. Nekhlyudov is a physician trained in internal medicine who cares for patients who are survivors of cancer. She guides them through life after cancer, which always proves to be very different than the life known before cancer. When the chemotherapy and radiation appointments cease and the ringing of the famous bell after treatment has been rung, what remains for these patients is the care they receive from Dr. Nekhlyudov.

When we first met, I was a second-year medical student, driven towards and passionate about becoming a pediatric oncologist, with a specific interest in survivorship. While our two paths are not exactly following a parallel trajectory, Dr. Nekhlyudov was able to offer me such wisdom and guidance throughout the duration of the ASCO Virtual Mentoring Program. I shared my experience in research and the roadblocks I had faced, and she shared with me the hard truths about finding valuable research mentors and what it takes to really become a published author. She prepared me for difficult conversations with mentors and people in power and taught me how to stand up for myself professionally.

After a year of incredible mentorship and continued communication after the program ended, I am now a newly minted fourth year medical student, still strong in my pursuit of becoming a pediatric oncologist. I will be partaking in an away rotation at Boston Children’s Hospital this summer, and I will finally get the opportunity to meet the best physician in Boston face to face!

If you believe you will not be able to find value and opportunity within a virtual mentorship experience, let these words and the skills I have gained spur you forward to give it a chance. The ASCO Virtual Mentoring Program allowed me to grow in my professional skills, my connection building, my research abilities, and in my confidence to become the physician I hope to become one day.

Ms. Sandblom is an MD/MPH student, class of 2024, at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix. Follow her on Twitter @lily_sandblom. Disclosure.

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