My decision to attend graduate school and study public health is the result of several life milestones including my learning of The National Cancer Act of 1971 and its creation of the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program with the NCI. The NCI defines cancer health disparities as adverse differences in cancer incidence, cancer prevalence, cancer mortality, cancer survivorship, and burden of cancer or related health conditions that exist among specific population groups in the United States. Working in research at MD Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC) I’ve seen first hand that while strides have been made to examine the factors contributing to cancer disparities, there are still gaps. Arriving at this point in my academic career is due in great part to my last three years of professional development, when I posed a series of questions for myself. All of which culminated in, how could I be the most affective in public health?
Just before I began college, my family became very familiar with MDACC. As a patient my mom enrolled in research protocols and continues to be actively enrolled in research studies. From our first hospital visit as a family to today, MDACC always served as guiding light for me, both for its excellent patient care and for its incredible strides in research. The early time I spent at MDACC created an enhanced sense of appreciation for the field of cancer health disparities, and the impact its research has on patient care.
Since gaining my bachelor’s degree my understanding of the healthcare field has grown enormously. The first question I posed for myself was, medicine or research? I chose both. I worked towards a degree in chemistry and pursued a research thesis in neurodegenerative diseases while also participating in medical internships. I filled my summers with medical programs that took me to institutions like the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, Texas A & M Health Science Center, and the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Unfortunately, there came a point when I knew I didn’t have the financial means to take the next step and become a medical student. After graduating I chose to work, save, study and apply for medical school over the course of a year. I put my research pursuits in my rear view and forged ahead.
I worked as a laboratory technician in a freestanding clinic, running routine lab work for patients and outside clients e.g. nursing homes and physician offices, while studying and applying for medical school. It was a stressful time, but I felt reassured and hopeful when I was invited on interviews. It was then that I took the time to reassess and look back on my work in research and made the bold choice to move to a new city and work in cancer research.
I came to Houston and back to MDACC in May of 2018 and it was the best decision I’ve made for myself. I now work in urology with renal cancer patients managing biospecimen protocols. Working here has solidified my choice to work in research, as well as set up the only question left to answer. In what area of public health will I be the most affective and spark the most change? Since coming to MDACC I’ve been able to answer that question, cancer health disparities research.
In the last year, I’ve recruited over 300 renal cancer patients to biobanking research protocols. With a myriad of factors that can contribute to a diagnosis of cancer, cancer disparities research is necessary in order to understand why some groups may be more or less likely to develop cancer. As per Charting the future of cancer health disparities research, since the advent of SEER in the 1970’s, the discipline [has] grown from a focus on black-white differences to encompass differences in outcomes for a number of racial and ethnic groups, as well as for cohorts defined by age, sex, socioeconomic status (SES), and other social determinants of health (Polite et al. 2017).
Access to quality cancer care e.g. smoking cessation programs and recommended timely cancer screenings is one hurdle but each patients background varies. Beyond access, it can be extremely difficult to break through the host of factors that may contribute to disease outcomes across racial/ethnic groups’ lifestyle behaviors, environmental, cultural, and biological factors. However, each offers important opportunities to modify the incidence, prevalence, and mortality from many cancers and other diseases. In the future I believe my background in chemistry and research experience will aid me in addressing cancer health disparities on more than one front. From the biology behind disparities to large retrospective studies examining the many factors contributing to disparities. It’s my goal to further advance my education in public health and analyze the factors effecting the disparities of diverse populations while remaining diligent and meticulous in practice.