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Pathways to Discovery: Fall 2011

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Bhutanese Surgical Oncologist Finds Mentor at UChicago

It’s a small step toward achieving good cancer care for my people.
—Tashi Wangdi, MBBS, MS

Cancer is prevalent in every corner of the world, bringing together healthcare professionals on a global scale to share information about this devastating disease. The UCCCC recently participated in a program that fosters such collaboration among oncologists from various countries.

The International Development and Education Award (IDEA) program matches award recipients with volunteers from oncology programs in the United States and Canada who serve as mentors for professional development and continuing education.

“Our mission is to partner with others who may not have access to some of the information or technology we have and help them enhance care in their own country,” said Mitchell Posner, MD, Thomas D. Jones Professor of Surgery, who spent June 7–10 hosting Tashi Wangdi, MBBS, MS, a surgical oncologist at the National Referral Hospital in Thimphu, Bhutan.

In the small Asian nation of Bhutan, stomach cancer is one of the most common cancers; yet, cancer care is at a basic level, with limited resources and technology. Dr. Wangdi cited this lack of adequate care as the reason he chose to pursue oncology. He compared cancer patients to orphans who were often shuffled from one place to another, without anyone stepping forward to care for them. Because the treatment for stomach cancer often involves surgery, Dr. Posner acknowledged Dr. Wangdi’s potential to substantially improve patient outcomes.

An Eye-Opening Experience
While at UChicago, Dr. Wangdi shadowed Dr. Posner, a highly regarded gastrointestinal (GI) cancer expert, to learn about the GI oncology program. As part of his educational experience, he attended surgical conferences, saw patients in the outpatient clinic, observed procedures in the operating room, met with faculty, and dined with the surgical oncology fellows. Dr. Wangdi called the experience “eye-opening” because, for the first time, he was able to see the multidisciplinary approach used in comprehensive cancer care.

Of the many observations Dr. Wangdi made, he said he was most struck by how Dr. Posner treated and communicated with his patients. “Professionalism is something that can take you far, and that’s something I saw here that really impressed me,” Dr. Wangdi said. “I would like to imbibe some of this into me and perhaps I can be a leading example in my country.”

A Global Approach to Cancer Care
The IDEA program, developed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), afforded Dr. Wangdi and more than 20 other IDEA award recipients from around the world to attend ASCO’s annual meeting, held June 3–7 at McCormick Place in Chicago. The group was also invited to spend a day at UChicago, where they met with UCCCC researchers and toured several clinical and research facilities.

They also had an opportunity to learn about current oncology topics at UChicago during a lunch seminar.

“I think it’s a great program. What ASCO has done is a real example of how to exchange information with our partners from around the globe,” Dr. Posner said. “The world is very small and I think that it is part of our DNA to try to enhance patient care––wherever it may be.”

As for Dr. Wangdi, he was excited to bring the experience he gained in Chicago back to his patients in Bhutan.

“I may not be able to take back everything I saw, but there are certain things I may be able to incorporate into my country,” Dr. Wangdi said. “It’s a small step toward achieving good cancer care for my people.”

IDEA fellows Comer Children's Hospital

Dr. Wangdi and some of the other IDEA award recipients from around toured Comer Children's Hospital during a visit to UChicago prior to the ASCO annual meeting.

Mitchell Posner Tashi Wangdi Bhutan cancer IDEA