The ASCO Humanitarian Award recognizes an oncologist who goes beyond their daily acts of service to provide outstanding patient care to otherwise low-resource patient groups. The recipient demonstrates leadership in voluntary, and often noncompensated, undertakings. For the first time since its inaugural year in 2011, the award is honoring an international ASCO member—medical and radiation oncologist Bella Kaufman, MD, of Israel. The award will be presented during the Opening Session held today, 9:30 AM-12:00 PM, (N Hall B1).
|Dr. Bella Kaufman|
Distinguished by her activism and service to vulnerable patient groups, Dr. Kaufman’s oncology work goes beyond her current position as the head of the Breast Cancer Unit at the Chaim Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer and her extensive research work. Her time is divided among her daily work of teaching, research, and patient care to include advocacy for underserved populations, treating those patients, and mentoring young oncologists just entering the field in her country. In an interview with ASCO Daily News, Dr. Kaufman described her volunteer work as a privilege. “It adds a sense of mission to an everyday worn-out routine,” she said.
Dr. Kaufman’s research at Sheba Medical Center focuses on BRCA1/2 mutation-related cancers. As a medical oncologist, she is also active in testing new drugs to treat breast cancer. Furthermore, Sheba Medical Center collaborates with other medical centers in Israel to establish a national policy for the diagnosis and care of women who are carriers of BRCA1/2 mutations, ensuring quality care to all patients in the country.
During her years of volunteer service, Dr. Kaufman has advocated for human rights and equality in patient care, and she has worked as a volunteer physician for underserved populations such as those in Palestinian villages in the West Bank. In recent years, Israel’s refugee population has grown and an influx of African refugees with cancer has entered the country, weathered from their illness but also from their journey through the Sinai desert. Dr. Kaufman describes the situation as “quite challenging since the refugees don’t have medical insurance and have no option to return home to their countries.” Still, despite the adversities, she offers them care and remembers her most rewarding moments.
“My most gratifying times are when former patients, who completed difficult adjuvant chemotherapy a few years earlier, visit and bring with them their newborn babies. Facing the joy of these women who returned to a normal life re-energizes me and justifies all the efforts that I have invested my years of work,” she said.
Advocacy Efforts with an International Reach
Although based in Israel, Dr. Kaufman is aware of the expansive influence her humanitarian efforts may have. She reflected on the status of patient care internationally and notes that “the unique situation in Israel has wide clinical and sociologic implications.” To further disseminate the latest knowledge, she has assisted in organizing several symposia hosted in Israel and across the globe on breast cancer research.
As an active member of several committees, Dr. Kaufman consults and advises her country’s Ministry of Health and Parliament on oncology-related health policies. During annual negotiations, she speaks on the benefits of new treatments and technologies and campaigns for their inclusion and reimbursement in Israeli health care system. Once approved, the treatment becomes available to all the patients in the country regardless of their health insurance, a main point of her activism. “One of the activities that I value most is my involvement in projects that help patients with all kinds of illnesses who belong to underprivileged or uninsured groups,” she said.
Caring for the Future
Always looking forward, Dr. Kaufman is devoted to her students and their success. Her role as a member of the Executive Committee of the Israeli Society of Oncology allows her the opportunity to train young physicians in her areas of expertise. She is also a professor in the Division of Oncology at the Sackler School of Medicine of Tel Aviv University. She speaks highly of her time individually tutoring a large number of medical students throughout their schooling and finds her role of mentor beneficial. Information regarding Dr. Kaufman’s experience and beliefs regarding medical education, physician–patient communication skills, and best practices regarding breaking bad news to patients is indispensable to those just entering the field. With her guidance, the next generation of oncologists will have the heart and the persistence to ensure that all patients around the world will receive adequate care despite their socioeconomic situation.