Antonio D’Alessio, the winner of the 2016 'Best Student' Award, talks about his experience at the ESMO-ESO Course on Medical Oncology for Medical Students.
What was your main reason for applying to join the course?
It is difficult to choose only one reason. I could emphasise the value of getting lectures by experts from all over the world, or my enthusiasm for studying in a multicultural environment with others who share a passion for oncology. Truthfully, however, the main reason why I applied for this course is my intellectual curiosity about experiencing a different way of learning, diverse from the very didactical one used at the university. Also, discovering new and modern treatments for cancer and how these are (or could be) applied in the daily clinical process.
What was your take home message from the five days?
What I really appreciated about this course was that it was not just focused on the specific lines of treatment for each stage of the disease, which is a thing you can easily find in the guidelines.
On the contrary, we learnt about the general approach to the cancer patient, particularly with regards to the multidisciplinary interaction between experts from different domains.
Instead of enumerating an endless list of chemotherapeutic agents, professors aimed at training us in a global way, explaining us the importance of differentiating a cancer in local, locally advanced and metastatic environment and how the clinical perspectives change.
After all, if I had to say just one take home message, I'd choose the importance of working in a team: the oncologist is just one piece of the puzzle and the interaction with other professionals is the key for a correct therapeutic strategy.
Why are you interested in medical oncology?
At the beginning of medical school I was mainly interested in basic research, especially cellular biology and immunology. After a period of training in a lab, though, I felt that there was something missing in that life of microscopes, PCR and cells cultures: the interaction with a patient.
I grew interested in oncology because in my opinion it is the field where the microscopic world of the intracellular pathways meets more the macroscopic world of disease and suffering, the field where a lot has been done but much has still to be done. Anyway, it is not just about new discoveries and theoretical knowledge: in my clinical training I have learnt that the everyday activity is full of difficult moments and hard decisions, but even the smallest improvements can give you the biggest satisfactions.
These little victories, like giving good news to a patient, seeing him/her smiling, even if it's just one case in a day, push you further and give you the right motivation to keep on doing your best.
How do you feel about having a professional society, such as ESMO, supporting you in your professional development?
After my (still) little experience with ESMO, I feel that its name should be changed: it's more than a simple Society, it's like a Family!
When you know that you are part of an organisation focusing on oncology – with thousands of people all over the world fighting every day the same battle – you are constantly pushed to do your best, even as a simple student.
Furthermore, ESMO gives essential help in building an international network of contacts: it can give you the chance to complete your studies abroad as a student and provide new perspectives for your future career.
I'll never stop thanking ESMO and its course because I have come back home with a broader knowledge on oncological issues, with widened professional horizons and especially with a stronger willingness to become, one day, an oncologist.