The Hallmarks of Cancer and Patient Care

A First-Year Ampersand Program

It’s news no one wants to hear – “You have cancer.” The Hallmarks of Cancer & Patient Care is an exciting and immersive opportunity for undergraduate students in Arts & Sciences to explore the interface of biology, human disease, and patient care. The program is built on a holistic approach in understanding the interwoven layers of science and medicine within the context of a major human disease – cancer. The program also can enhance vocational discernment, particularly appealing and benefiting students with long-term interests in a health-related profession.

The Hallmarks of Cancer & Patient Care is a two-year program designed for matriculating first-year students. Upon acceptance to Washington University in the spring, students may apply online for admission to the program by indicating their interest in Hallmarks of Cancer & Patient Care. A description of the program and how to apply online is in “Getting Started,” a brochure sent to students in mid-May.

Due to high demand, admission to this program is very competitive. Academic credentials, interest in a health-related career, and personal statements will be used to initially screen candidates. Up to 50 students will then be chosen to enter a lottery system, where 20 will be selected to join the entering cohort.  

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How to Sign Up

The sign-up process with priority review for first-year programs and seminars begins on Thursday, May 16, 2024, at 4 p.m. (CT). To participate in priority review, please submit your application in the first 24 hours after applications open or by Friday, May 17, 2024, at 4 p.m. (CT). The link to the application form will be available on the First-Year Programs homepage during that time. You will need your WUSTL Key to apply. For each of the Ampersand Programs you wish to rank in your top four choices, you will need to complete a separate statement of interest (no more than 500 words) answering a program specific question. For The Hallmarks of Cancer and Patient Care the 2024 application question is: In 250-500 words, why are you interested in The Hallmarks of Cancer and Patient Care program and how do you anticipate your participation will affect your long-term goals?

First-Year Programs Homepage


Semesters 1 & 2 – The Biology of Cancer I & II

How does cancer happen? In this opening two-semester sequence, we will explore the underlying biological and genetic changes a normal cell undergoes in its transformation into a malignant tumor. We will also look at the intersection of medicine and cancer through diagnostics and therapies. At the conclusion of the first year, students will be well versed in the biology of cancer and its importance in the field of medicine.

Semester 3 – The Language of Cancer

How is cancer communicated? In this third semester course, we will explore the language of cancer by learning to read and interpret scientific literature while exploring progress in cancer research, from advancements in biomarkers and diagnostic technologies to novel therapeutic interventions and curative strategies.  We will contrast this form of research communication with literary forms of personalized storytelling from those who have lived with cancer to gain key insight into the human condition. At the conclusion of this semester, students will be well versed in the research process and its scientific communication while enriching their perspective on the humanistic side of health and disease.

Semester 4 – The People of Cancer

Who treats cancer patients? In the final course, we will explore the various healthcare professions that work in the field of oncology and patient care. We will also will gain valuable firsthand experience through clinical rotations and working with cancer survivors through Siteman Cancer Center’s Survivorship program. At the conclusion of this semester, students will be well versed in the various healthcare professions and their support of cancer patients while furthering vocational discernment.


Once admitted to the program, students must complete the following:

  • Two semesters of Biology of Cancer seminars (1st year)
  • One semester of literature research in oncology (2nd year)
  • One semester of professional healthcare exploration (2nd year) 
  • Service-learning activity or community-engagement project
  • Final capstone project and reflection paper (2nd year)



The Hallmarks of Cancer & Patient Care is directed by Anthony Smith, Lecturer in Biology and Biomedical Sciences and Coordinator of Undergraduate Research Experiences. Trained as a microbiologist and immunologist, Anthony shifted his interests/focus from infectious disease to cancer after a harrowing scare with one of his younger brothers (refractory Hodgkin’s lymphoma). He now aims to introduce WashU students to a fuller understanding of a disease that touches so many while helping them discern future directions in an expanding healthcare landscape.



Anthony is partnered and supported by friend and colleague, Dinesh Thotala, Associate Professor of Radiation Oncology at University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. Dr. Thotala’s primary area of research involves immune suppression during radiotherapies and novel ways to mitigate this effect. He provides an important voice and expertise in translational aspects of cancer biology and therapies. 




Jennifer Arch, Teaching Professor in English, will co-teach our third semester. There is a body of extraordinary writing—both literature and creative non-fiction—that has arisen from the experience of having cancer: the physical pain caused by both the disease and its treatment; the fears and uncertainties that arise from the confrontation with mortality that a diagnosis with cancer forces; and the stresses felt by physicians who are trying to do their best for their patients. Prof. Arch will lead discussions of a selection of these works, with a special focus on how language both conveys and creates experience.



An integral part of the teaching team is Ms. Sarah Colby, coordinator of the Arts + Healthcare program at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Ms. Colby is a trained artist who specializes in holistic patient care by fostering a culture that includes the arts as an integral aspect of the healing environment for patients, families and caregivers. Ms. Colby will take a leading role in year two of the program, guiding the cohort through transformative interactions with cancer patients and survivors. 




The final, crucial piece to the teaching team is Ms. Rochelle Hobson, hospice and oncology nurse who manages Siteman Cancer Center’s Survivorship Program. Ms. Hobson has over a decade of experience working in end-of-life care and managing multiple dimensions (physical, psychological, social, and spiritual) of cancer survivors. Ms. Hobson will co-lead our interactions and service project with cancer patients and survivors in the second year.



Student Testimonials

Student Testimonials after semesters one and two 

Zoey Scher, Fashion Design major

The Biology of Cancer is both my favorite course that I have taken so far here at WashU, and the most interesting, especially as I am on the pre-med track.  I am so glad that I took this course as I feel it provided me with an incredibly strong introduction into some of the pathways, mechanisms, and basic foundations I will need to know to pursue my intended career path. The course covers a large breadth of information, but it never felt overwhelming or overly difficult because of the light-hearted, constructive, collaborative environment that was fostered in the classroom. Since taking this course, I feel significantly more prepared to move forward in the oncology field and am much more certain that this path is what’s right for me.


Lojain Elkhidir, Biology major and Psychological & Brain Sciences and Medical Humanities minors

The Biology of Cancer has been my favorite course I've taken at WashU so far! This course offers a unique opportunity to develop a nuanced understanding of cancer biology by addressing a wide variety of topics, from the hallmarks of cancer to diagnosis to treatment. I truly appreciated how this course went above and beyond to explore the implications of what we were learning for modern day research in oncology. For someone considering pursuing the pre-health path, I would highly recommend this Ampersand program. Not only will you learn so much, but it provides a space for individuals who share a passion and interest in oncology to interact and learn from each other!




Student Testimonials after semester three

McKenzie Halpert, Biology major and Psychological & Brain Sciences minor

Whether you are looking to gain experience evaluating innovative research, dive into the realm of novel cancer treatment, or experience the camaraderie of a small class setting, The Hallmarks of Cancer & Patient Care has it all! The course’s group project-based curriculum facilitates collaboration and engagement while giving students the freedom to explore fascinating topics in oncology research that spark their interest. Joining this Ampersand program was one of the best decisions that I made at WashU. I couldn't wait to attend class each week as the instructors are phenomenal, the content is intriguing, and the environment is beyond supportive and welcoming. From the third semester of this program, I’ve been able to gain a much greater understanding of the holistic nature of cancer and its pioneering treatments as well as hone critical thinking, communication, and teamwork skills that have helped me even beyond the course.


Will Leidig, Neuroscience major and Jazz Studies minor

The most crucial skill I gained from The Hallmarks of Cancer & Patient Care was being able to read and interpret medical research papers. Understanding the how and why of the experiments and the implications of their results has enabled me to independently learn about cancer and other diseases and apply that knowledge to my own research. This course gave me the opportunity to explore areas of cancer research I was interested in and accurately communicate the information in a professional format. I feel that I could not have gotten as far as I have in my research at the school of medicine and Siteman Cancer Center if it were not for the scientific competency I acquired in this program.



Student Testimonials after semester four

Taylor Holt, Genomics & Computational Biology major and Psychological & Brain Sciences minor

The Hallmarks of Cancer and Patient Care is an Ampersand program that is filled with great opportunities and experiences, and this is especially true during the final semester of the program. I found each day to be very exciting as I was given the chance to learn from a wide range of professionals in the field of oncology. This course also provided me with incredible experiences such as touring a pathology lab and learning how to do sutures from a surgical oncologist. Hearing about the general responsibilities and daily routines of the healthcare team, in addition to participating in art therapy with cancer patients, helped solidify my aspiration to be a physician. Another aspect of this course that I enjoyed is that it perfectly concluded the previous semesters in the sense that it helped me see how the knowledge I gained regarding cancer biology and research related to patient care.

Aditya Waddodagi, International Affairs and Economics majors

The Hallmarks of Cancer and Patient Care has been a program like no other in my time so far at WashU. The first two semesters quickly immersed me into the ins and outs of the biological mechanisms of cancer. Some topics that we studied include molecular features in normal cells, cancer genetics, and the hallmarks of cancer (the capabilities gained by cells as they progress from normalcy to cancerous). Over a matter of months, I went from an incoming freshman, whose understanding of cancer only extended to it being a deadly disease, to developing an impressive toolkit of knowledge with which I could truly appreciate its complexity. In the third semester, we put this toolkit to use through group-based interpretations of oncological research papers. Presenting these frontiers of cancer to the class and being able to answer their questions became an exciting and fulfilling experience. Presenting a topic requires you to know concepts at a high level which not only bolstered my confidence but also brought me closer to my peers in the class. Through our final semester of the program, we were exposed to the human side of cancer. This ranged from visiting the pathology and radiology departments at the School of Medicine to participating in Art Therapy Support Groups with patients battling cancer to listening to a breadth of healthcare professionals talk about their work as it relates to the illness. These last few months filled me with admiration for the patients and professionals and optimism for the future of cancer treatment. I now realize the sheer variety of ways that one can make an impactful difference in the field of oncology. From beginning to end, the program’s comprehensive approach introduces students to the field of oncology and gives them lifelong memories along the way.

I am thrilled to work with incoming Wash U students, whose energy, enthusiasm, and dedication to learn/grow provide the spark to this program. I’m excited to present a holistic approach to a disease that ravages every community across the globe yet pushes the boundaries in advancing science and medicine. We will gradually progress through the program, from corrupted cells to emerging treatments to healthcare delivery to lived experiences and personal stories. We are going to learn so much together and find fulfillment in the process.

―Anthony SmithLecturer in Biology and Biomedical Sciences & Coordinator of Undergrad Research Experiences