Summer Entrepreneurial Experiences

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The End (But Really the Beginning)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013 5:50 pm

Although my eight weeks interning with TakeTheFight came to a close, I will still continue working with the company over the next few weeks. The project has turned out to be the guiding framework for TakeTheFight to launch this semester between Wake Forest’s campus and the Cancer Center at WFUBMC. I am continuing to set dates for fall recruitment orientation, training, and meetings based on the Wake Forest events and academic calendar.

The best part has been the ability to use my own ideas and creativity to develop and continue TakeTheFight. I enjoyed the independence and felt like I gained important time management skills. I also enjoyed working with my leukemia cancer patient and the continuing work I did to help he and his family. It is refreshing to have hospital staff recognize me in a different part of the building and stop me to ask how I am doing and to tell me “it’s wonderful…what I’m doing for the Smith family.”

The worst part is the anticipation of the fall semester because I’m impatient. I want to see how successful the recruitment of new strategists and their training go and that just won’t happen until September. But I’m confident that TakeTheFight will not have trouble gaining interest for its expansion.

An exciting aspect recently came up. We were published in the Association of Community Cancer Centers journal called Oncology Issues. The Association of Community Cancer Centers reaches over 900 hospitals, 1200 private practices and 18,000 oncologists & healthcare professionals, all of whom treat more than 60% of America’s entire cancer patient population. My picture with my patient and his oncologist were printed in the article.

It has been a very rewarding and enjoyable summer experience and I am even excited to see the progress of TakeTheFight 5-10 years from now!


Learning Experience

Monday, July 15, 2013 7:47 pm

I have learned about entrepreneurial management from an inside perspective for the first time in my life. I had always been curious about the life of an entrepreneur and many questions have been answered for me (although every business is different). There happens to be a lot of creative license and freedom to make any decision that I see fit. Many times, I have felt like my own boss. The consequence is that I push myself to get as much done as possible so that I can feel a sense of accomplishment. You have to trust your instincts and believe that your ideas are for the best interest of the company…envision success rather than the possibility of failure. I learned that the success with the start-up of this non-profit organization came from networking and a great deal of communication, which involves a lot of persuasion. You must believe in your own idea and mission in order to “sell” it to somebody else. Whenever I come up with an idea as I work on a project, I make sure to have confidence in it while discussing it with another member of the company. As I have delved into the entrepreneurial side of TakeTheFight, I have learned that my own strong points are self-discipline and perfectionism and the ability to use those skills on the projects I take on. I then strongly believe in my work and communicate this to my co-workers, who have been very receptive and appreciative of my work. The only aspect of entrepreneurship that I did not and will not touch upon is money (revenue, costs, profit, accounting, etc) because TakeTheFight is non-profit and it is not my role to deal with monetary donations. I’m still a little curious about how a new company deals with their accounts, but that can be saved for another summer or a different point in my life.

Challenges and Lack of Competition

Wednesday, July 10, 2013 6:42 pm

The challenges that TakeTheFight faces often stem from the fact that there is no established competition. There has never been a company other than this one that allows undergraduate students to have access to patients’ medical records and private information. Cancer patients have never had the opportunity to select a student to help them better fight their illness and take an active role in their care. Therefore, a challenge that arises is recruiting patients because nobody had ever heard of such a program before TakeTheFight. Our CEO has helped in this aspect by networking with doctors at the Cancer Center, who then ask their specific patients if they would like a strategist. interested patients can select from our available strategists based on their biographies on our website. The strategist meets the patient for the first time to explain how we can help and also to ask how the patient envisions us to help them. The system of pairing a strategist and patient has been successful thus far because oncologists educate the patient on TakeTheFight prior to them accepting the offer. Once a strategist has met the patient, a challenge that often rises is the amount of communication between the two. Sometimes the patient does not understand how to utilize their student strategist and will fail to mention appointment dates or updates on their lifestyle. As strategists, we cannot force somebody to make a nutritional or medical improvement if the patient is unwilling (despite the change being in their best interest). Our students have to understand before working within TakeTheFight that cancerous diseases do not always take a predicted course and we have to be willing to handle emotional situations.

Another initial challenge that stemmed from zero competition was having Wake Forest Baptist allow our company to have an office within the Cancer Center and to allow students to have unlimited access to resources and the opportunity to attend doctor appointments with their patients. Overcoming this barrier was achieved mainly by the credibility of our CEO after he had talked to so many people within the Cancer Center during the time they were treating his father’s glioblastoma. He got on the good side with hospital administrators and certain oncologists who were receptive to his ideas and sense of drive to help other patients. Gaining access to medical records is as simple as signing a release of information contract between patient and strategist. We just don’t work with anybody (doctors, administrators, patients) are not receptive to our company and its mission. However, we have enough reception and positive feedback among doctors and administrators to be able to continue working out of the Cancer Center. We were identified by our company uniform, logo briefcase, and the TakeTheFight branded tags worn from our necks. We had large signs on the radiation oncology floor and people began to recognize our name and request a strategist. Our website even generated interest from patients all over the country. We currently have a strategist working with a brain cancer patient mainly via skype to Washington State. Our CEO has set up headquarters in Bethesda, MD. We will be expanding to Georgetown and Johns Hopkins next. To create more awareness and interest in TakeTheFight in the fall, I am in the process of creating flyers and a station in the Cancer Center’s main oncology floor for patient recruitment.

Reflecting on the Company After Week 5

Tuesday, July 2, 2013 7:50 pm

The culture of TakeTheFight company is professional yet personal and emotional at the same time. It combines business with health and tough life situations. Strategists are required to be in uniform whenever we are at the cancer center or meeting with our patient. this attire is our black TakeTheFight logo t-shirt, branded with the word “Fight.” in white on the front center. We must wear dress pants (preferably black) and our TakeTheFight badge and WFUBMC hospital badge around our necks and TakeTheFight briefcase always in hand. This uniform unifies us and allows anyone at the cancer center to recognize our group and have an awareness of our presence. However, the interaction between strategist and cancer patient is not supposed to feel like we are just doing business, especially since money is not involved. We have conversations pertaining to how they are feeling and how they need help. When sitting in oncology appointments, news from the oncologist can turn emotional. Strategists have to be able to handle bleak situations and often have to be a person of support when a patient has no family member to accompany them to the cancer center. I enjoy the unique culture of the company because we have been successful at combining professionalism with just being real, compassionate people.

Decisions within the company ultimately get made by our CEO and founder, David Warren. He enjoys taking on a lot of responsibilities and the company started with his vision. so we respect his capacity to dictate how things are supposed to be run. When everything was so new at the beginning, I was in constant email and phone communication with him in order to do everything as he planned. However, he has recently been busy with his father’s brain cancer and has been out of Winston-Salem for weeks. So I am making all of the decisions regarding my internship project. I have a lot of creative license right now to plan the company’s direction for the fall semester and I am stoked to see it put into action. Right now, people are working independently within the company and I am one of four people who are actually working with TakeTheFight at the moment. We convene every two weeks or less to collaborate on our ideas, but we are working daily by ourselves. I work alone with my patient, but during the spring, we worked more as a collective team to help each other out. Each strategist could propose ideas to help other strategists out since we dealt with a lot of the same issues with our patients. Since we are divided into divisions according to the different types of cancer that we work with, we held division meetings. each strategist within the division would give a presentation about their patient’s progress and conditions and we would work as a team to propose solutions that the strategist could use to help their patient’s specific issues. Holding these meetings is very crucial to the working environment of TakeTheFight…..especially since one of our slogans reads “We are a team.”


Week 4: Half full or half empty?

Monday, June 24, 2013 9:23 pm

As I look at the progress of my work with TakeTheFight thus far, I realize I have had success in two different aspects. The most important to me is the improvement with my cancer patient. Four weeks ago, I listened to his oncologist warn him that his leukemia would come back and it was only a matter of time until he needed chemotherapy boosters to ward off the cancer. This would entail another four to five weeks in the hospital, leaving him with zero immune system strength and a regression from the physical state he has worked so hard to regain since his last hospital stay. But this past week, I had the pleasure of hearing his oncologist say that his blood counts are so healthy, that he does not even need to see the doctor as often anymore, let alone receive chemo. So he is experiencing remarkable health and it has proven to me that when somebody is willing to fight for their life and they want to live, they will do the right things to take care of themselves. Those are the type of patients that fight and win.

As for the other aspect of my project, the company reform and remodeling, I have written up a good deal of framework for our fall chapter and I can now look to creating the tangible pieces, such as pamphlets and a drop box in the cancer center to create a patient-recruitment system. I will also create a formal application for student recruitment, a power point presentation for a student recruitment night on-campus, a power point template for our fall meetings within each cancer division, and choosing a company to provide us with the best deal on embroidered company shirts. As all of these projects come together, I have learned the importance of branding and streamlining everything with repetitive logos, slogans, and company values. This also provides some ease in the tasks because my mind is engrained in TakeTheFight’s goals and culture. By the end of the summer, my hope is to achieve a final outline of every aspect of my company of which my peers and I wanted to see improve. The hardest part is knowing that it will take until the fall to put all of my work into practice to see if really created a successful direction for the company. I choose to see this as “the glass half-full” as opposed to empty because I am going to believe that the company will be successful enough to continue past the upcoming academic year.

Week 3: The Inspiration

Monday, June 17, 2013 10:09 pm

Last Friday, I completed the third week of my summer internship and everything has gone well so far. As I work on improving TaketheFight program for the fall, I always keep in mind the inspiration behind this company. It all started with our founder and CEO, David Warren. His Dad had been diagnosed with a form of brain cancer, called glioblastoma. He was not expected to live long at all, but David did not want to accept that answer. He took a very involved approach in his father’s care and attended all of the medical appointments, taking rigorous notes, asking a million questions, and performing a myriad of internet searches about survivor success stories and experimental treatments. David switched his Dad to a strict diet, instilled regular exercise, and made charts of all of his medication and vitamin doses and times, etc. His Dad is alive and well right now and his life was saved up to this point because of the amount of care that his son put into him. TaketheFight was born because David learned that many more cancer patients could be saved if they were just better informed on how to have a more active role in their own care instead of relying on only the things their oncologists mentions in a ten minute appointment. Oncologists do not always choose a path of treatment based on the individual person when each person actually needs treatment tailored to them specifically. The hope is that undergraduate students can train patients how to lengthen their life expectancy instead of accepting it.

What Teach For America achieved for the education system, TaketheFight aims to accomplish for the healthcare system. In the winter of 2012, TaketheFight hand selected a corps of Wake Forest University’s top undergraduate students, each of whom committed to fight alongside a cancer patient and their family for the duration of the semester.In order to become “cancer strategists,” as TaketheFight dubs its students, students are trained through a collaborative approach, borrowing from TaketheFight’s unique organizational system, to instruction by the Comprehensive Cancer Center’s key department heads, ranging from Oncologists, Patient/Nurse Navigators, Chaplain Staff, Patient Transportation, Nutritionists, Cancer Center Administrators and others. Additionally, students are assigned patient-centric cancer strategy books, written by both physicians and survivors. Students are then on-boarded via the Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Volunteer Services, which entailed additional training, including extra HIPAA instruction.

In its inaugural semester, oncologists, nurses and patient navigators began referring patients to TaketheFight, which in turn paired student strategists 1-on-1 with motivated patients. Deliberately, TaketheFight’s patient population is diverse, ranging from all walks of life and resources, to various diagnoses of Breast, Brain, Pancreatic, Liver, Melanoma and Leukemia cancers, to additional comorbidities such as HIV, Diabetes and Sickle Cell. In the fall, patients will request their own strategist by reviewing strategist video introductions and résumés on the web, to streamline the referral process. My hope right now is to create an efficient student and patient recruitment and pairing process.


Week 2: Cancer Strategists and Patients

Friday, June 7, 2013 7:29 pm

Although I am currently working alone while our CEO/founder is traveling overseas to find experimental treatments for his father’s current cognitive regression with glioblastoma (a type of brain cancer), I had the pleasure of working with the other cancer strategists and patients over the past couple of months. Just like the Livestrong foundation, Take The Fight is a non-profit company and nobody is with the organization for the sake of money. The other strategists are my own peers at Wake Forest and they are the type of students who truly want to help somebody and make an impact on someone’s life. I observed each one of them being called upon to work more hours every week than they realistically have time for and they do it anyway out of the goodness of their heart. We all adjust our schedules to make it to our patient’s doctor appointments or for meetings and conferences within our own company. During finals week, strategists showed up at the hospital multiple times to celebrate the multitude of patient graduation celebration events that we put on (due to the end of the semester). I am working on the recruitment process for new strategists, who will start at the beginning of the fall semester, and we will still be retaining most of the strategists that we had this past spring. The typical profile of a Take The Fight strategist is a hard-working student at the top of their class with prior medical knowledge/experiences or a strong interest in helping people.

Just like the other strategists, I still work with a leukemia patient as he fights to stay in the remission he achieved last month. I have attended his follow-up appointments with his oncologist, Dr. Bayard Powell and I’ve had the chance to interact with this doctor through the journey. My patient and his wife are truly the most optimistic humans I’ve ever met and they show a willingness to do anything it takes to get rid of the cancer. They always bring their other family members to the appointments so I’ve met their three children and most of their nine grandchildren, plus friends and neighbors. We all keep each other updated and I gained them access to a “My Wake Health” wesbite where my patient’s appointments, medications, blood work, etc can be viewed every day with a login and password. As of this week, I got access to an iphone app that performs this exact function. It is most helpful for keeping track of specific blood levels such as the white blood cell counts and platelets.

Over the summer, I will be meeting with two other peers within the organization to give them my updates and progress. One is the “Patient Affairs Coordinator.” He does not have a patient himself, but oversees every pairing of strategist-patient within the organization and reports to our CEO. The other student is able to gain access to many resources within Wake Forest Baptist Hospital if needed. The three of us look forward to improving the Take The Fight company and letting it expand in the fall with an intake of more strategists and patients and the eventual national-scaling.

Take The Fight

Friday, May 31, 2013 5:05 pm

As a quick introduction, I’m Nicole Irving and I am a rising senior (B.S. in Chemistry w/ biochemistry concentration). I run on the cross country and track team for Wake Forest and plan to continue racing post-collegial. Although I am still uncertain of my academic plans upon graduation, I do know that I have an interest in cancer biology. Many of my family members have battled with cancer and I took the opportunity to become deeply involved with a start-up, non-profit company called “Take The Fight” this past semester. My internship will allow me to take on a leadership roll and explore more of an entrepreneurial aspect of the company than I’ve previously dealt with.

Take The Fight (TTF) was launched in February at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center (WFBMC) by the CEO, David Warren. TTF pairs Wake Forest undergraduate students with cancer patients at WFBMC in order to help the patients fight smarter and take a more active role in their own care. The students are called “strategists” and I will continue being paired one-on-one with a leukemia patient and his family. Not only will I gather his medical records and create a “Patient History”, but I will keep records of all imaging scans performed, lab work, and other major medical timeline markers. I will attend all of his doctor appointments and I will discuss the patient’s specific case with the doctor. All documents will be organized in a branded “Take The Fight” briefcase, which will be handed over to the patient at the termination of my internship. Along the way of his care, I will be teaching him how to take detailed notes and ask the proper questions when interacting with doctors. A Google Drive system will also be implemented to upload the medical documents in e-folders for only the patient and strategist (my role) to view them. I hope to learn a lot about Google Drive and how to apply my strong organizational skills to teach my patient how to have all of their medical files constantly updated, organized by category, and in computer files as well. I will also be leading the Leukemia Division to help any other Leukemia strategists deal with their patients’ issues.

Although I am continuing to work with the clinical side of TTF via the continuation of working with my own patient, I am also going to be spending a great deal of time reforming aspects of the company based on my observations since its February start-up. This is going to involve changing protocol for the fall semester to make events run smoother. Areas that I will work to improve are: recruitment, roles for new strategists, business development, patient “graduation” event ceremonies, etc. I also expect to delve into marketing, which is crucial for a company this new. I hope to help gain partnerships to support Take The Fight and allow it to continue at WFBMC and expand to other university/hospital pairings across the nation.

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