Since 2006, the Moffitt Program for Outreach, Wellness, Education and Resources, or M-POWER, has focused on outreach education and community partnerships, particularly among those in the Tampa Bay region who experience health disparities.
By Ann Miller Baker
Under the direction of Moffitt Diversity leaders B. Lee Green, PhD, and Cathy Grant, M-POWER's eight team members have developed educational workshops in both English and Spanish on a variety of topics, from healthy lifestyles to cancer-site specific information. They've also connected community members in need to screening voucher programs for breast, colorectal, lung and prostate cancers.
Now, M-POWER has become part of the Community Outreach, Engagement & Equity team under the direction of Susan Vadaparampil, PhD, MPH, Associate Center Director, Community Outreach, Engagement & Equity. This office was created in 2018 to enhance Moffitt Cancer Center's efforts in addressing community needs from a research perspective. This area has become a growing focus of the National Cancer Institute, which oversees the Cancer Center Support Grant.
Ensuring that health equity is at the forefront of Moffitt Cancer Center's research will require an ongoing and bidirectional exchange of information and ideas between our researchers and community stakeholders. According to Vadaparampil, M-POWER is uniquely positioned to facilitate that conversation.
"One reason for this change is the opportunity to strengthen connections between the outreach team and our faculty," said Vadaparampil. "We want to facilitate more of that engagement both ways so that our community is hearing about the latest advances in research and clinical care, and our faculty hear directly from the community about what is most important to them. M-POWER is the ideal vehicle to be able to operationalize this approach. They bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise that we won't need to re-create because M-POWER has been innovative in doing this for a long time."
"The team is known and trusted in the community," said Chantel Griffin-Stampfer, Manager, M-POWER. "Being based in the Community Outreach, Engagement & Equity area, our team will increase M-POWER's capacity to understand and explain research to the community. This will allow us to directly address concerns that people may have about research and increase their trust in research as well."
Bringing researchers into community presentations can provide answers to common questions and concerns. "Our communities are sophisticated," noted Vadaparampil. "For example, they want to understand, if I'm of Puerto Rican descent, is my risk for cancer greater than those from other Hispanic communities such as Cubans or Mexicans? Our investigators are driven to understand the answer to this question by studying factors like the role of genetic ancestry in cancer risk for diverse communities. To me, that's a concept that's driven by a community need and desire to be understood and seen, both for their commonalities and also their unique qualities."
It's also a chance to demystify research clinical trials and all the things that make Moffitt Cancer Center unique, but are sometimes not as well understood by community members. Griffin-Stampfer noted that participation in clinical research trials can be another way for the community to access the latest advances in care at the Cancer Center.
But what Moffitt Cancer Center researchers stand to take away from interactions with the community is equally important to Vadaparampil. "This will help our investigators to view and to develop their research ideas through a patient-centered lens or a community-centered lens. And it can show them how their work, regardless of the specific area of science they work in, truly helps the community we serve."
Reflecting the Community We Serve
Intrinsic to Moffitt Cancer Center's culture, diversity and inclusion efforts have earned national recognition. "We have made great strides in removing racial barriers and are proud of our accomplishments in diversity here at Moffitt," said Doug Letson, MD, Executive Vice President, Physician-in-Chief and President, Moffitt Medical Group. "But too many racial disparities persist in society."
This year's headlines served as glaring reminders of the uneven hardships faced by the Black community, and these societal upheavals have spurred Moffitt Cancer Center to recommit to its efforts against racism and disparities.
One such effort is aimed at making the Cancer Center faculty more reflective of the greater community we serve. The Faculty Diversity in Oncology Program is barely 2 years old but has already made an impact. In 2019 alone, three Black faculty members were recruited to Moffitt Cancer Center. And another, Jhanelle Gray, MD, was promoted to Department Chair, Thoracic Oncology. Search committees to name new chairs and program leaders now include Black members so that the issue of diversity in these choices will always have a voice at the table.
Orthopedic surgeon Odion Binitie, MD, leads the Faculty Diversity in Oncology Program, started in 2018. "Black physicians have the lowest representation of any racial group at Moffitt," noted Binitie. "So, our initial question was what are we doing for Black faculty members at Moffitt? Are their needs being met?" Both were troubled to find that, historically, not much data had been tracked on the number of Black physicians, scientists, PhDs and postdoctoral students and their experiences at Moffitt Cancer Center.
Through discussions with Cancer Center leadership and Black faculty, the Faculty Diversity in Oncology Program was formed with three focus areas: recruitment and retention of Black and African American faculty members; mentorship and sponsorship of young Black faculty; and education and training, not only for the Cancer Center physicians, scientists, team members and leaders, but also for Black youth in the community who are interested in health care careers. Moffitt Cancer Center currently offers a variety of science-, technology-, engineering- and math-related education programs for high school and undergraduate students. For example, the Healthy KIDZ program at works closely with Title I schools, bringing underrepresented youth to the Cancer Center for programs that include lab tours. One such recent outreach initiative was done virtually with the BEST Academy, which targets underrepresented and disadvantaged youth. Binitie said there is also opportunity to work even more closely with community programs like BEST.
And that, said Binitie, is critical not only to developing young physicians and scientists, but also to making Moffitt Cancer Center more welcoming and responsive to its diverse community of patients.
"I think it's very important for patients to be able to see people who look like them," said Binitie. "And the Faculty Diversity in Oncology Program is one place to start -- the intentional recruitment of diverse faculty will hopefully also increase the number of Moffitt faculty who are interested in pursuing health disparities research or leading clinical trials that will help us close the gap in outcomes across populations."