Coming Full Circle

Commentary
Article
Oncology FellowsVol. 16/No. 1
Volume 16
Issue 1

In Partnership With:

Andrea Porpiglia, MD, MSc, FACS, and Sanjay Reddy, MD, FACS describe what makes the Complex General Surgical Oncology Fellowship at Fox Chase unique.

Andrea S. Porpiglia, MD, MSc, FACS

Andrea S. Porpiglia, MD, MSc, FACS

Andrea S. Porpiglia, MD, MSc, FACS, an associate professor in the Department of Surgical Oncology at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has been promoted to assistant program director for the institution’s Complex General Surgery Oncology Fellowship.1

Porpiglia initially arrived at Fox Chase as a surgical oncology fellow in 2013 and rejoined the institution as an instructor and surgeon in 2020 after 5 years of practice in the greater Philadelphia area.

“One of the reasons, I decided to come back to Fox Chase was [the opportunity] to work with fellows and residents,” Porpiglia said in an interview with Oncology Fellows. “Teaching is a passion of mine, so having that opportunity to be able to do it is a true privilege. Moving forward, I want our fellowship to continue to compete with some of the bigger fellowships in the country, which we [already] do well. [I also want] to get our fellows more involved in research and more involved in national organizations. Getting them involved in leadership will help them in the future.”

“We’re training more and more surgical oncologists, because there is a need for physicians with this unique skillset in both academia, and also in the community setting. As a result, there have been more programs coming online, to fulfil this need,” Sanjay S. Reddy, MD, FACS, associate program director, Complex General Surgical Oncology Fellowship; the Marvin S. Greenberg, MD, Chair in Pancreatic Cancer Surgery; associate professor, Department of Surgical Oncology; and codirector, Marvin and Concetta Greenberg Pancreatic Cancer Institute, all at Fox Chase Cancer Center, added in a separate interview with Oncology Fellows. “But to that end, our program has been one of the originals, storied in tradition, and has a great reputation of training well-rounded surgical oncologists.”

Porpiglia was recognized as a 2023 Top Doctor by Philadelphia magazine and received the same distinction from Main Line Today from 2016 through 2018. She is also a member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the Association of Women Surgeons, the Pennsylvania Medical Society, and the Society of Surgical Oncology.

In the interviews, Reddy and Porpiglia describe what makes the Complex General Surgical Oncology Fellowship at Fox Chase unique, outline the responsibilities of Porpiglia’s new role, and offer advice to aspiring and current surgical oncology fellows.

Oncology Fellows: What distinguishes the Complex General Surgical Oncology Fellowship at Fox Chase Cancer Center from other similar programs?

Reddy: The Society of Surgical Oncology [SSO] fellowship is not a new fellowship. There is great tradition with this and historically it was 1 of the most challenging fellowships to obtain a position. The complexity of the cases and the limited programs made this a coveted opportunity. In 2014, the SSO decided to make this an ACGME [Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education]–accredited fellowship, which allowed for a more structured program and the opportunity for other programs to build and expand. [That year had] the inaugural class of the fellowship that went through the ACGME [program].

Our fellowship is uniquely structured, having 3 fellows per year, and 6 fellows in total. We also have a surgical oncology research fellowship, with 2 fellows total. We are all passionate about 1 thing, training the next generations of surgical oncologists, who may find their niche in academic medicine, or in a busy community practice.

Porpiglia: We have 3 fellows per year and we are a dedicated cancer institution. I believe having the fellows only take care of patients with cancer [means that] we don’t have the distractions that some of the other academic sites may have with general surgery. Our fellows are able to focus on their fellowship and that alone. [Additionally], with the multidisciplinary care team that we have at Fox Chase, everyone works very closely together. The fellows are able to rotate on our medical oncology and radiation oncology colleagues in addition to having our tumor boards.

How did you know Dr Porpiglia was the right candidate for the role?

Reddy: For any program to be successful, there has to be a team behind it. I was the associate program director for a couple of years when Jeffrey Farma, [MD, FACS,] was the program director. Then as he into other leadership positions, I became the program director of the fellowship. The role of the assistant program director is significant, and the need to problem solve and adapt is essential. It also helps when you have graduated from the program, as that perspective is priceless. There is no one better than Andrea, both of us trained at Fox Chase. I’ve known her for over 12 years, and her work ethic and dedication to the field of surgical oncology is unwavering.

What is this new role going to entail? What will the immediate contributions to the program look like?

Reddy: This fellowship promotes surgical education, both clinically and academically. Our goal is to train broad-based, well-trained surgical oncologists. They [will be able to] go out and practice, whether they’re going to go out in the community or into academics. We’ve had a series of fellows over the years go back to their home countries and were able to bring the art of surgical oncology to their home institutions. This is 1 of the most rewarding aspects of being involved with the fellowship, seeing your trainees bring a much-needed expertise to the table.

Porpiglia: My role is to help with some of the administrative tasks that come with being a fellowship program director. We’re able to identify future surgical oncologists, [and need to] sort through the applications and pick which ones are going to be the best fit for our program and future stars in the field. Having gone through the program previously myself, the mentors that I was able to gain from being a fellow here I still have today and I still lean on them, even after being out [of the program] for 10 years.

What guidance would you offer to oncology fellows who are interested in pursuing a surgical focus?

Reddy: This fellowship is unique. It gives trainees who are residents who are looking to do a fellowship a way to increase their versatility. A surgical oncologist is well equipped to handle advanced complex hepatobiliary cases, [but] they could also do colorectal cases, head and neck cases, melanoma, soft tissue, breast oncology, [and so on]. Surgical oncology offers a variety of specialties within cancer surgery that fellows can train and hone their skills. It’s that broad-based training that allows our fellows to be successful in the environment of surgical oncology in this country and beyond.

Porpiglia: When you’re within a general surgery residency program, now you need to decide early on if that’s the trajectory you want to go. You need to be able to work in research—it plays an important role in our job—and you need to know everything about it, [including] how to start a project, how to see the project through, and how to get abstracts and publish. It’s helpful if the residents are able to get that [experience] during their residency program. From there, shadowing and getting mentors in the field is helpful in terms of navigating the process of applications and interviews to secure a position.

Reference

Dr Andrea Porpiglia promoted to assistant program director for complex general surgical oncology fellowship at Fox Chase Cancer Center. News release. Fox Chase Cancer Center. July 27, 2023. Accessed February 5, 2024. https://www.foxchase.org/news/2023-07-27-dr-andrea-porpigliapromoted-to-assistant-program-director-for-complexgeneral-surgical-oncology-fellowship-at-fox-chasecancer-center

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