Physician finds volunteer work rewarding


  • Carrie Printz

Melanie Thomas, MD, MS, spent 2 weeks volunteering with the ASCO ICC in August 2010. “I had a general desire to give back and use the training I've been so fortunate to obtain in the US medical system to help another country train their oncologists,” says Dr. Thomas, associate director of clinical investigations at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

Dr. Thomas spent time at Hospital San Felipe, the main referral center for cancer patients, and Hospital Escuela, the large main public hospital and site of the medical school in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. She was the first medical oncologist to volunteer with the program, and the trip gave her the opportunity to understand the challenges in improving the country'smedical education and cancer care.

Hospital San Felipe already has a surgical oncology residency program, and staff leaders hope to develop a medical oncology training program as well, along with the help of volunteer oncologists from the United States. Dr. Thomas made a number of recommendations to the ASCOICC about how such a program could be developed.

Although the supply of chemotherapy drugs is undependable and intermittent and there is a lack of infrastructure for clinical research in Honduras, Dr. Thomas says she was impressed with the physicians, students, residents, and nurses there.

“I thought that since Honduras would not have the most modern diagnostic and therapeutic technology compared to the US, it would be very difficult to discuss cases and teach principles of oncology,” she says. “However, the residents have a very strong foundation of knowledge and excellent critical thinking skills, which are far more important than technology.”