The Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), which is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), recently awarded Brian Lally, radiation oncologist of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, a grant to study the work of TaketheFight, a nonprofit organization which partners Wake Forest students with cancer patients to be sources of help and support.
“TaketheFight is really different from anything else currently out there in healthcare, and we’re looking forward to seeing what we can learn from both the students and the patients at the same time,” said Lally, who works as a radiation oncologist at Wake Forest Baptist’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The small nonprofit organization opened its first office in 2012 at Wake Forest Baptist, and has since expanded, with current headquarters in New York. As TaketheFight’s website states, their work is similar to “building Teach for America—for healthcare.” TaketheFight is currently looking to add about 50 new student strategists in the spring semester.
“We pair students with patients who want a personal strategist to help them fight through cancer and want to take an active role in their own care,” said senior Philippe Ayres, co-president of TaketheFight.
After completing strategist training, student volunteers attend their patient’s medical appointments when possible. They are essentially expected to become a personal source of encouragement and support for their patient.
“I see my patients do better with this program,” Lally said. “I don’t think it’s any one factor that [TaketheFight] provides. It’s lower stress, coordination of care and advocacy. There is no one single thing. TaketheFight provides an across-the-board benefit.”
The cancer center of Wake Forest Baptist is the largest integrated cancer hospital in the state, and one of only 45 centers to be named a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute. US News & World Report listed the center as the best cancer hospital in the state and 17th in the nation last year.
Through their partnership with TaketheFight, the research team at Wake Forest Baptist is looking to optimize their model for patient support by improving the volunteer experience for all involved.
“It’s amazing because it takes the energy and passion of college students to inject a new breed of fighters into the healthcare system,” Ayres said. “TaketheFight allows one to have the opportunity to attend a patient’s appointments … and to support the patient emotionally. You become more than just a volunteer. You become family, and the relationships you form last a lifetime.”
Associate professor Joanne Sandberg, who works in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Wake Forest Baptist, said of the research study, “We are trying to better understand what the whole process is like for both the students and patients involved. The students are an untapped resource of energy, excitement and wonderful volunteer labor in their work with patients. We want to know what that experience is like for them … and what makes it easier to do their job effectively. TaketheFight is a great resource for cancer patients who want additional help.”
“I admire the students for what they’re trying to do, and how they’re trying to make the world better and make society better,” Lally said. “I think this is a good opportunity for some of the college students to get experience in the medical center and the medical field and find out what it’s like.”
While the majority of student strategists are pursuing a career in the medical field, TaketheFight welcomes students of all disciplines, because the more volunteers there are, the more patients the organization can help.
The study to be funded by the NIH grant is titled “A pilot study of take the fight as community-based participatory research.” Lally hopes to get abstract results by the fall, as he expects research to begin in a few weeks.
The grant was given as a part of the NIH’s Community Based Participatory Research Program, which aims to foster collaboration between community organizations, such as TaketheFight, and scientific researchers, such as those at Wake Forest Baptist.
“It’s one of those things that could change the healthcare landscape in a big way if it gets some life to it and takes off,” Lally said.
TaketheFight is different than hospital-based care programs in that the student strategists do not work for the care center. Rather, as TaketheFight volunteers, they are solely working for the patient. Sandberg and Lally are hoping that their research will allow the organization to enhance the current model and develop it to reach a larger scale of patients.
“TaketheFight empowers students to make a real, tangible difference within the lives of cancer patients, and the healthcare system as a whole. As our mission states, we are empowering tomorrow’s leaders to lead today,” said co-president and junior Hannah Montague. “The impact we make as an organization is made possible by … the true passion carried by all involved.”
“Our partnership with TaketheFight represents a lot of work that we’ll be doing in the future,” Sandberg said. “We hope that this will be a good project over the year and that we and our co-investigators will be able to build upon this in years to come.”