In our continuing effort to connect and learn more about our international oncology colleagues, The ASCO Post recently spoke with Rossana Berardi, MD, Professor in Medical Oncology and Director of the Postgraduate School of Oncology at the Università Politecnica Marche, Ancona, Italy, where she is Director of the Department of Medical Oncology at AOU Ospedali Riuniti, Head of “Genetic Cancer” Laboratory, and Deputy Director of the Department of Internal Medicine. Dr. Berardi is also a member of the National Committee of Italian Association of Medical Oncology and President and Foundress of Women for Oncology–Italy, which is a branch of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO).
Rossana Berardi, MD
Please tell our readers about your upbringing and what may have influenced your decision to pursue a career in medicine.
I was born in Senigallia, a beautiful and historic Italian city, situated on the east coast of Italy on the Adriatic Sea. I grew up there and attended the Marche Polytechnic University in Ancona. I decided to be a doctor while I was in primary school, with the aim of doing scientific research. From the beginning, my dream was to take care of life, since it is the most precious asset we have.
Please tell us about your educational path, from grade school to college.
I attended a scientific high school, received my medical degree, and finally attended the Postgraduate School in Medical Oncology. I had the chance to work for a while at UCLH [University College London Hospital], which is a teaching hospital founded in 1834 in the London Borough of Camden. As I mentioned, I decided to be a doctor during primary school, with the aim of becoming a clinical researcher. I have always been a nerd: I completed high school in 4 years instead of 5 years for merit and obtained my Degree in Medicine magna cum laude, in a shorter time; then I became a board-certified medical oncologist, also magna cum laude. Now I am a workaholic!
I decided to be a doctor while I was in primary school.... From the beginning, my dream was to take care of life, since it is the most precious asset we have.— Rossana Berardi, MD
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A Career in Medical Oncology
Please give the readers a window into the medical school experience in Italy, and when you decided on the challenging field of oncology.
Medical school in Italy provides a high-level education. The duration of the degree course is 6 years; the first 3 years are mainly dedicated to basic subjects, and the second 3 years are mainly focused on clinical subjects. Hospital internships are started in the third year, with a rotation in different departments. Oncology is scheduled for the sixth year, but I decided on the challenging field of oncology when I was attending the third year, without even knowing what oncology really was; however, since I was interested in research, I strongly believed a career in medical oncology gave me the best opportunity to combine the laboratory and the clinic in a way that could translate research findings to our patients with cancer.
In the United States, after graduating medical school, young doctors do an internship, residency, and eventually a fellowship in their subspecialty. Please take us on your journey, after receiving your MD degree.
Back in my day in Italy, after graduating, young doctors did a 6-month internship to apply for registration from the General Medical Council; the internship has been now anticipated before obtaining a medical degree. After passing a national entrance exam, you can enroll in postgraduate school.
I had the privilege to make my dissertation with Prof. Riccardo Cellerino, who was also Director of the Postgraduate School in Medical Oncology. His enthusiasm and support gave birth to my love for medical oncology. He strongly believed in young people and gave me many exciting opportunities (such as going to work in a hospital clinic in London, which broadened my medical perspectives); presenting my studies at the 2000 and 2001 ASCO Annual Meetings (which led to a merit award) and ESMO Congresses; and winning travel awards. Prof. Cellerino’s thoughtful guidance and encouragement helped me build a solid and fulfilling career, which shows the importance that mentorship plays in oncology.
From Volunteer Fellow to Director of Medical Oncology
Please take us on the road from fellowship to your current position.
After becoming a board-certified medical oncologist, I was a volunteer fellow at the Department of Medical Oncology at the University of Ancona while I worked as a medical guard during nights and on weekends. Looking back, it was the hardest period in my life, and I often thought about giving up. However, that period of self-doubt changed when I became a research fellow at the Department of Medical Oncology at Università Politecnica Marche in Ancona.
After a few years, I won the competition as senior lecturer/consultant medical oncologist and landed the job of being responsible for the Trial Unit; in this role, I became involved as an investigator in more than 30 Good Clinical Practice trials on solid tumors per year. Since that very robust period in my career, clinical and translational research on prognostic and predictive factors, mainly on lung cancer, has been my main interest.
Over the past few years, my career has evolved rapidly. My mentor Prof. Stefano Cascinu moved to another university, and I become Associate Professor and later full Professor in Medical Oncology at Università Politecnica delle Marche, Director of Department of Medical Oncology, Director of the Postgraduate School of Oncology, Head of “Genetic Cancer” Laboratory, and coordinator of the Hospital Breast Unit and of the Molecular Tumor Board at Università Politecnica delle Marche–Ospedali Riuniti in Ancona.
I have been awarded many grants and prizes. Most recently, I won an Italian Oscar Prize for best researcher in oncology and an award as Knight of Merit of the Italian Republic.
Enhancing the Careers of Female Oncologists
While conducting research, I have always been particularly active in promoting events and projects for patients and caregivers (eg, pink days in pink room, kaleidoscope room, fashion days) and social networking. In fact, I am founder and President of the “Women 4 Oncology Italy” network, which was established in 2016 as a spin-off of the ESMO Women for Oncology initiative; Women for Oncology Italy (W4O Italy) was officially registered as an association in Italy in January 2018.
W4O Italy is a network with the mission of enhancing the career of female medical oncologists, who are increasing in number and professionalization but who are still poorly represented in important professional roles in oncology. W4O Italy aims to create favorable conditions and open the way to a new group of female leaders, who are ready to face and overcome the challenges related to the gender gap, which still exists in oncology in Italy.
Advice for Medical Students
What advice would you give to medical students considering a career in oncology?
Here are my three tips for medical students dreaming of entering the field of oncology. First, to paraphrase the great French philosopher Blaise Pascal: To build the future you need to dream it first, so find your dream and do everything you can to make it a reality. Second, remember that for everything you do in medicine, if you do it smiling and with your heart, it has better results, for you and your patients. Third, being a medical oncologist and a researcher is very hard work—and at times frustrating—so always remember why you chose this exciting career and do not give up!
What do you do to decompress from the rigors of your career?
First, I truly love my career and am very fortunate to have had such great mentors who have helped me forge the path I took. However, I also like shopping, traveling, and most of all smiling with my 15-year-old son.
DISCLOSURE: Dr. Berardi has served as a consultant or advisor to Amgen, AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim, EISAI, GSK, Novartis, MSD, Otsuka, Eli Lilly, and Roche.