Oncofertility Science Academy Inspires Young Women to Become Physicians & Researchers

Onconfertility Trip to Northwestern

For the last decade, the Department of Reproductive Medicine at the UC San Diego School of Medicine has sponsored an innovative program that offers young, high-school age women with the opportunity to become immersed in an exciting new field of medicine—oncofertility—which addresses the fertility needs and quality of life issues of young cancer patients.

Each year, approximately 12-14 young women from San Diego communities are selected to participate in the Oncofertility Science Academy’s summer program, which includes Saturday classes taught by UC San Diego faculty, on topics ranging from cancer biology and in vitro fertilization to chemotherapies and reproductive ethics. The Library’s biomedical and public health librarian, Karen Heskett, also plays an important role in the program’s success, providing instruction to the students on best practices in researching public health and medical research.

“The sessions focus on the research process, and the importance of beginning with a well-defined search strategy,” said Heskett, who has provided instruction to the OSA’s students in the annual program since 2014. “This is really an impressive group of young women. While this is often their first foray into research and scholarly literature, they are highly motivated to learn and understand, and they do amazingly well at diving in and grasping what they find. I find it very gratifying to contribute to their learning and enlighten them about the research process.”

According to OSA program director Dr. Jeffrey Chang, who teaches classes in the program and is a reproductive endocrinologist in the Department of Reproductive Medicine, more than 125 young women have graduated from summer program to date, many of whom have gone on to earn degrees in STEM fields and successful careers in science, medicine, and related fields.

At the end of the summer, students participate in a graduation ceremony, and are required to give poster and oral presentations. The top presenters are invited to attend a national oncofertility conference at Northwestern University in the fall. At the conference, students have the opportunity to hear about cutting edge advances in oncology treatments as well as the challenges oncologists are grappling with now. Students also get to meet and interact with some of the most respected and influential physicians and researchers in the field.