Inova Hematology-Oncology Fellowship Program: A Groundbreaking First Year Exceeds Expectations

Faran Polani, MD, is a hematology-oncology fellow with Inova Health System.

When I began looking for a hematology-oncology fellowship, I wanted a program that balanced clinical experience with research opportunities. As I learned more about Inova’s Hematology-Oncology Fellowship Program, I grew excited at the prospect of applying. Inova’s quickly expanding research center, combined with the opportunity to learn from nationally renowned researchers and faculty members, placed this program among my top choices. Add the rich clinical diversity in Northern Virginia, and I knew this program offered robust opportunities to gain experience with a variety of pathologies.

When I compare what I anticipated with what I have actually experienced as a fellow, Inova has been everything I wanted — and more. The clinical exposure, the extensive support resources and the opportunities to contribute to the program’s development have exceeded my expectations.

Looking to a future of oncology advances

Inova’s Hematology-Oncology Fellowship has allowed me to train in a much wider breadth of pathologies than what I’ve observed in other programs. This experience allows me to build the skills to specialize in any oncology area of my choice.

Since beginning the program, I have developed an interest in precision medicine. This interest has partly stemmed from the opportunity to participate in the Inova Schar Cancer Institute (ICSI) molecular tumor board. Medical oncologists from all ISCI disease centers meet regularly with molecular pathologists to discuss next-generation sequencing reports and precision medicine treatments. This tumor board has increased my passion for the field and underscores what an exciting time it is to be in oncology.  

Oncology research and advances in immunotherapy, targeted therapies and precision medicine in the last several decades have significantly changed cancer care. When I speak with my attendings who have practiced for decades, they emphasize how rapidly oncology treatments are changing. We’re able to offer patients so many more lifesaving and life-extending therapies than we were even 10 years ago. I’m excited and honored to be part of this field and part of the Inova team at such a groundbreaking, exciting time.

Holistic, well-rounded training

My decision to become an oncologist stems all the way back to my high school years. Growing up in Pakistan, my family was very involved in charity work and philanthropy in the medical field, particularly in cancer care. When a close family member was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, it ignited an interest in medicine within me.

During my time as a hospitalist at Washington University School of Medicine, I had the opportunity to work closely with patients in the inpatient setting. I think of one patient with stage four lung cancer who was eventually admitted to the hospital as terminally ill. We held a family meeting with the patient, her loved ones, oncology and palliative care. As we discussed her care and made our recommendations, it became abundantly clear that the most important opinion to her was that of her oncologist. I was moved by how much trust she had developed with her physician. The bonds in oncology are unique and special — I knew then I wanted to pursue this career path.

Perhaps one of the most valuable facets of Inova’s Hematology-Oncology Fellowship is the array of resources that support holistic training that can help build that bond. For example:

  • All fellows partner with therapists to co-facilitate monthly Inova Life with Cancer support groups. What I’ve learned from these patients about their experiences with the medical system and cancer care has been invaluable to my growth as a compassionate clinician.
  • Monthly psycho-oncology meetings provide opportunities for fellows to discuss a wide range of issues including grief, wellness, compassion fatigue, burnout and difficult conversations.
  • Ongoing access to Life with Cancer’s educational programs and mental health professionals provides extra resources when dealing with challenging or emotionally taxing cases.
  • Quarterly trainings bring in a physician consultant who simulates difficult patient-clinician conversations. Walking through these scenarios together provides us with better tools for communication and relationship-building.
  • In the upcoming year, narrative medicine sessions will create small group settings to reflect on and discuss readings that pertain to the humanity of medicine in general and of oncology in particular.

A collaborative learning environment

No matter what other resources a program has, the learning environment makes the most difference in any fellow’s experience. Inova has delivered beyond what I hoped for in this area. This fellowship is a learning-oriented program. It’s clear that the primary focus of the program is to educate and train fellows, not ask us to shoulder responsibilities with no educational value.  

As a brand-new program, I’ve appreciated how open and receptive leadership is to new ideas. The faculty continually look for ways to improve the program, welcoming our feedback and encouraging us toward a sense of shared ownership.

Learn more about the Hematology-Oncology Fellowship Program

For more information about the Inova Hematology-Oncology Fellowship Program, please contact:

Ms. Pier LeGendre
Business and Administration Manager, Fellowship Programs
Inova Schar Cancer Institute
8081 Innovation Park Dr.
Fairfax, VA 22031
Phone: 571-472-0681

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