POE Program: Lessons for Life

Excerpts of this story appeared in The Cardinal and Cream, the student newspaper of Union University. The author, nursing major and former POE student Erin Gafford, is a student at the Jackson, Tennessee, school.

Union University junior Brian Taylor cannot remember how many times he was almost run over by energetic children on tricycles weaving their way through the brightly painted halls of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital during the summer of 2003. He snickers thinking about the many collisions he avoided. 

“Those kids are so resilient,” he says.        

Taylor joined 70 other students from schools across the United States, as well as from Puerto Rico and Ireland, to spend the summer working alongside researchers and clinicians at St. Jude. 

The students were part of the 10-to-12-week summer Pediatric Oncology Education (POE) program and were selected from a pool of nearly 400 applicants. The program gives selected undergraduates and health profession students, such as medical, pharmacy and nursing students, who are interested in pediatric oncology an opportunity to do laboratory or clinical research at the institution. Each student is matched with a faculty mentor with similar interests.

According to Suzanne Gronemeyer, PhD, program director, many students find the St. Jude experience to be pivotal. “I don’t know how many students have said on their outgoing survey or long-term follow-up survey that this program has been one of the most important things they have ever done in their lives, and that it really changed their direction in life,” she says.

For Taylor, working at St. Jude was a dream-come-true. “When I was really little, I told my mom that I was going to work at St. Jude,” he says. “I’ve always had an interest in medicine, but never explored the possibility of going into it.” But after a few weeks at St. Jude, Taylor realized that medicine is definitely what he wants to do. He is now considering the possibility of doing graduate work in biomedical engineering or medical physics.

That is what the POE program is all about. Although many students coming into the program have some research experience, most have not firmly decided on career paths. The POE program allows students to get hands-on experience working on world-class research. Students are also encouraged to step outside their work areas to learn about various disciplines relating to childhood cancer at faculty-led lectures.

Once the applications arrive, Gronemeyer begins the match-making process by e-mailing faculty members to see who want to be POE mentors. Investigators send her the technical or scientific skills they seek, and Gronemeyer can electronically search those key words from the hundreds of applications stored on her computer.

The POE program is funded by the National Cancer Institute and is one of the most competitive summer pre-doctoral programs in the country. Seventy percent of students are from outside Memphis. The average grade point average for the POE class of 2003 was 3.73 on a 4.0 scale.

Gronemeyer’s hope is to find funding to expand the program so that even more students can see that a career in pediatric oncology could be a life-changing choice.


Reprinted from Corridors magazine, autumn 2003.