Henry Ford Health internship for students of color introduces field of oncology

The most recent census shows about 8 percent of practicing oncologists are Black or Hispanic - and a smaller fraction of that are women.  But a new program is introducing young women of color to the field of radiation oncology.

Dr. Eleanor Walker, the director of Breast Radiation Oncology for Henry Ford Health is working to change that.

"Even when I was a resident there were not a lot of people of color or women and radiation oncology," she said.

Walker launched a mentorship program to create access, which is in its first year, called the Henry Ford Cancer Radiation Oncology Summer Internship Program.

She started it at her alma mater, the University of Notre Dame.

"We decided we would start with two students and give them a stipend," she said. "And then they had to apply. So we got them here and introduced them to the field of radiation oncology."

Hakim Sanfo is a junior and a member of the Notre Dame football team, was selected to participate and spent a portion of his summer in Detroit at Henry Ford.

"Having the experience of understanding what happens after med school and during med school is indispensable," he said.

Dr. Walker sees that students connect with the community.

"It’s really exploring the city and understanding the people who are here, because medicine is very important to understand your population," Sanfo said. "If you can't interact with the population, you’re at a loss for who you want to serve."

There were also onsite projects.

"We go to health fairs to talk (about) prostate cancer to African-American men during Juneteenth," he added.

"They also got to go to the OR and see how surgery is part of pancreatic cancer care, in addition to radiation care," she said. "It is the same thing with breast cancer, they got to sit in on tumor boards."

Hakim says it was a life-changing experience to see people who look like him achieving what he hopes to do.

"At Henry Ford there are a lot of Black doctors, Black nurses, a lot of  Black administrators that I was able to talk to," he said.

Dr. Walker is working to expand the mentoring program.

"The aim is to continue this program, definitely with Notre Dame, but we want to expand it to the high school students and possibly to some MSU med students in the future."

For more information, you may email Dr. Walker HERE.