ASTRO Fellowship Awarded to MD Student Rehema Thomas

Rehema Thomas, a first-year MD student at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), has long been interested in oncology, especially radiation oncology. This summer she will have the chance to learn firsthand about the field thanks to an American Society of Radiation Oncology’s (ASTRO) Minority Summer Fellowship.

Thomas said she knew she wanted to spend her summer learning more about radiation oncology, so she started researching fellowships in the area before coming across the ASTRO fellowship. She reached out to ASTRO member Curtiland Deville, MD, clinical director of radiation oncology at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center at Sibley Memorial Hospital, to see if he would be willing to be her mentor for the summer. He readily agreed.

The summer fellowship was created to introduce medical students from underrepresented backgrounds to the field of radiation oncology early in their medical education. It allows students to explore radiation oncology as a career choice and provides them with unique experiences and exposure to clinical, basic, and translational research.

To be considered for the grant, applicants must be enrolled at a medical school in the United States, identify a mentor with a successful record of research productivity, and the selected institution must have an established research and clinical program, among other requirements.

For her fellowship, Thomas will work with Deville on research surrounding the use of photon and proton therapies in soft tissue sarcomas. She said they’ll be looking on the differences between the two therapies.

“People undergoing radiation treatment can have skin problems and long-term issues, so we’ll be looking at that and how effective each therapy is at killing or shrinking the tumor,” she said.

The program will last eight weeks and will give Thomas a chance to write an abstract paper on the research she has done.

This is not Thomas’s first time having the chance to conduct oncology research. Last summer through the SMHS METEOR Program, Thomas worked with Rebecca Kaltman, MD, a medical oncologist and assistant professor of medicine at SMHS.

Thomas’ interest in oncology is a very personal one. She has a history of breast cancer in her family; her mom is a breast cancer survivor, she lost an aunt to breast cancer, and also has another aunt battling the disease now. “I’ve known since before med school that oncology is what I want to do,” she said.

As part of the fellowship, Thomas also will also receive a stipend to attend ASTRO’s annual meeting in 2020 and present her research at the event.

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