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Oncology Fellows Benefit from Condensed Learning Resources and Engaged Learning

June 14, 2022

Mid-July 2022

Oncology lacks focused learning resources compared to fields like internal medicine, and passive teaching approaches, such as lectures, are much more common than strategies that actively engage learners. Research discussed at the 2022 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting suggested an approach to better meet fellows’ educational needs.

Sam Brondfield, MD, MAEd, of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), pointed out that medical education often focuses on medical students and residents.

“Fellows are often left out as learners since they are advanced in their training and are expected to ‘pick it up as they go,’” he said. “But as faculty educators, we can do so much to help fellows learn effectively.”

With his colleagues, Dr. Brondfield developed 12 condensed learning scaffolds for use in conjunction with other, more comprehensive resources. These scaffolds focus on different areas of oncology (e.g., breast cancer, prostate cancer) and include bullet points, tables, and figures adapted from the ASCO self-evaluation program textbook’s solid tumor chapters and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) guidelines.

“The scaffolds are meant to offer a place to start, a true ‘scaffold’ upon which fellows can construct their knowledge from the ground up rather than feeling like they are drinking from a firehose when they first start learning a vast field such as oncology,” Dr. Brondfield said.

The idea is that the process of creating and updating scaffolds helps individual fellows learn, while also building a useful, up-to-date resource for others in the program.

Dr. Brondfield and colleagues emailed the scaffold links to all UCSF and Stanford University oncology fellows with instructions on how they could update them to succinctly reflect new information, such as changes in disease management. The fellows made 60 updates to the scaffolds between August 2019 and December 2021, none of which were erroneous; the faculty auditor also added nine updates.

The oncology fellows seemed to be craving condensed and accessible learning tools such as the scaffolds they created, Dr. Brondfield noted. Using the scaffolds helped the fellows interact more confidently with more comprehensive resources, such as the NCCN guidelines, he added.

“Developing succinct resources that cover many areas of oncology and having the fellows themselves update those resources as they learn is a win-win in my mind,” Dr. Brondfield said.

Ideally, he would like to provide these scaffolds to many other institutions, which could then assign each scaffold of a particular area of oncology to a fellow and faculty mentor. He noted that scaffold learning approaches such as this one might be useful in other specialties as well.

“At my institution, there has been a request from the fellows to expand to include hematology since we began with solid oncology,” Dr. Brondfield said. “It would be great to see this model expand into hematology and beyond.”

Any conflicts of interest declared by the authors can be found in the original abstract.


Brondfield S, Schwede M, Johnson TP, Arora S. Online scaffolds: A constructivist approach to oncology fellow learning. Abstract 11010. Presented at the 2022 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting; Chicago, Illinois.


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