Portrait of third-year medical student Samantha Wong wearing scrubs outside School of Medicine Education Building

Medical student receives funding to study global oncology care in youths

Samantha Wong awarded prestigious grant named after noted alumnus

(SACRAMENTO)

A third-year medical student who is passionate about pairing scientific research with public health initiatives has been awarded the Daniel T. O’Connor, M.D., Memorial Research Grant

The grant is awarded annually to a UC Davis School of Medicine student. It will allow Samantha Wong to step away from classes and clinical experience this next academic year and focus solely on research. 

“To be selected for the O’Connor Grant is a huge honor. I’m super excited,” Wong said. “There aren’t a lot of opportunities for medical students to get funded for an entire year of research.” 

Wong is part of an academic honors program known as ARC-MD, or Academic Research Careers for Medical Doctors. 

ARC-MD students are in medical school for three consecutive years, then spend their fourth year conducting research. After the research, they rejoin medical school for their fifth and final year. 

The grant is named for the late Daniel T. O’Connor, a 1974 UC Davis School of Medicine graduate who became an internationally renowned physician-scientist and distinguished alumnus for his work at UC San Diego into hypertension and renal disease It provides a monthly stipend for living expenses as well as health insurance. The award also includes funding for research, travel expenses and access to mentors. 

The grant is designed to support deserving medical students whose research and passion for academic medicine reflect the values and interests of O’Connor: high-quality translational work that emphasizes a multi-disciplinary, collaborative, “bench to bedside” approach. O’Connor’s research gave trainees invaluable skills in medical investigation, and many fellows and junior faculty who trained with him at UC San Diego went on to success in pharmacology, biotechnology, nephrology and other areas of academic medicine. 

O’Connor’s widow, Kellie Evans-O’Connor, along with other members of his family, friends and colleagues, established the endowment in partnership with the School of Medicine following his death in 2014. 

Wong became excited about science while a student at Franklin High School in Elk Grove. She already has a long list of accomplishments as a researcher. 

Between her junior and senior year of high school, she spent a summer at the University of Florida where she helped with research on type 1 diabetes. 

During her undergraduate years at Stanford University, she studied the effects of policy, advertising and homelessness on tobacco use, among other topics. She stayed at Stanford for graduate school, attaining her master’s degree in community health and prevention research. 

At UC Davis, she’s spent the past two years studying dermatopathology with Maija Kiuru, associate professor of clinical dermatology and pathology. She also volunteered at the student-run Paul Hom Asian Clinic and served as editor-in-chief of the UC Davis Health Student Review

In addition, Wong gained national exposure in 2020 for winning a global writing award from the Lasker Foundation for an essay contest that emphasizes “science is truth.” The title of her essay was: “Fauci: Science as a Voice of Reason.” 

“Samantha is a remarkable student,” said Luis Fernando Santana, professor and chair, Arline Miller Rolkin Endowed Chair in Physiology & Membrane Biology. He helps lead the ARC-MD honors program. 

“In my 23 years of experience teaching medical and graduate students,” he adds, “I would rank her among the very best of a long list of trainees for the unusual combination of talents she has.” 

Elysia Alvarez, assistant professor of pediatric hematology/oncology
Samantha has an impressive track record that demonstrates she is on the right trajectory to becoming a successful physician-scientist.”Elysia Alvarez, assistant professor of pediatric hematology/oncology

For next year’s research project, Wong will focus on learning about adolescent and young adult oncology care in Latin America. Her mentor will be Elysia Alvarez, assistant professor of pediatric hematology/oncology. 

Specifically, Wong expects to: 

  • Explore the patient experience of adolescents and young adults with cancer through a cross-cultural, global lens 
  • Expand her professional network of pediatric oncologists, both nationally and internationally 
  • Obtain professional mentorship through one-on-one research mentoring, and participate in national and international conferences 

Alvarez, a global oncology researcher, looks forward to the relationship with her mentee. Alvarez believes the results of Wong’s anticipated research will have the potential to “substantially impact” the clinical care and outcomes of adolescent and young adult patients with cancer around the world. 

“Samantha has an impressive track record that demonstrates she is on the right trajectory to becoming a successful physician-scientist,” Alvarez added. 

Wong is eager for her research year, which begins June 1. 

“I think if you talk to any medical student, they’ll tell you that finding ways to be successful in school – and still take part in research, extracurricular activities or have a work-life balance – can be really challenging.” 

She added: “To be able to devote a whole year to exploring research and building my toolkit of skills, especially on a project that I’m very excited about, is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

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