Weill Cornell Medicine and the National Center for Oncology, Yerevan, Armenia
Dr. Onyinye Balogun serves as an attending Radiation Oncologist practicing at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. While engaged in her clinical duties, Dr. Balogun has developed a keen interest in global health projects focused on improving the delivery of cancer care. As a designated ICEC Ellen Lewis Stovall Early Career Leader and grant awardee, Dr. Balogun is spearheading global health programs in Armenia, Gabon, and other low- and middle-income countries, designing educational curricula to train clinical and radiation oncologists and radiation therapy professionals to successfully familiarize them with the foundations of 3D conformal radiation therapy (3-DCRT). Her curriculum is an important contribution to improving care, but more work remains to address education gaps, equipment needs, and to develop a long-term plan to sustain excellent cancer care in these regions.
Born in Nigeria and moved to the US as a child, Balogun carries with her memories of a trip to Nigeria to visit an aunt who had breast cancer. Shocked by scars from what she first attributed to surgery, but later learned were from poorly administered radiation therapy, Balogun was galvanized to become a doctor and find better ways to practice radiotherapy. True to her mission, Balogun graduated from Harvard University and spent a year in Ibadan, Nigeria, working with a breast cancer advocacy group focused on providing accurate educational information to patients about radiotherapy. After graduating from Yale University School of Medicine, she initiated her residency training at the University of Chicago and completed her final year at New York University. In addition to serving as an attending Radiation Oncologist, Balogun serves as an Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology at Weill Cornell Medicine specializing in the treatment of breast and gastrointestinal malignancies.
Dr. Balogun was introduced to ICEC in 2014 by Dr. Silvia Formenti, Chair of Radiation Oncology at Weill Cornell Medical College and Radiation Oncologist-in-Chief at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, who introduced her to Dr. C. Norman Coleman who helped conceptualize the ICEC mentorship-model. Impressed by ICEC’s innovative approach to sustainable cancer care in LMICs, Balogun joined the organization as an Early Career Leader and submitted a grant to support the development of a pilot curriculum for the implementation of 3-dimensional gynecological conformal radiation therapy.
In 2015, Balogun piloted a 2-week curriculum for implementing 3-DCRT for breast cancer at the National Center of Oncology, Yerevan. Its success convinced her the curriculum’s model could have broader applications and adapted for treating other types of cancer. Dr. Balogun returned to Armenia in October 2017 to expand the curriculum to gynecologic cancers. During this recent trip, Balogun identified critical needs for improving radiation therapy treatment and ensuring high-quality care into the future, endeavoring to introduce a Varisource brachytherapy unit, treatment planning software for brachytherapy (internal treatment) for cervical cancer, and to identify resources to purchase other equipment and medical needs.
The next phase of work is to further establish the ongoing twinning relationship with Weill Cornell and the National Center of Oncology in Yerevan and to increase the level of cancer expertise in Armenia generally while working toward a sustainable model for excellence in cancer care. These efforts require support for professional time (one day per week year-round) to work, via telemedicine, with the Radiation Oncologists, Physicists, and Technicians at the Center in Yerevan, and the implementation of intercontinental teleconferencing system oriented to oncology specialties to support treatment planning for patients. ICEC will continue its work with Balogun supporting mentees, otherwise known as ICEC Associates, through making travel opportunities available to attend global cancer conferences as either presenters or participants. ICEC will also offer funding incentives to ICEC Associates who commit to working with ICEC Experts to enhance skills/knowledge with the end goal to deliver high-quality cancer care.