Stephanie Wheeler, CPCRN Coordinating Center Principal Investigator, has been named associate director of UNC Lineberger’s new Office of Community Outreach and Engagement.
Wheeler will be responsible for gathering community input to assess the needs of North Carolinians related to cancer prevention, early detection, cancer care and survivorship. The new office will set up infrastructure for analysis and implementation that leads to evidenced-based, community participatory service and further research into inequities in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and outcomes related to cancer.
An alumna of the University of Cape Town, South Africa (Master of Public Health), and of the UNC Gillings School (Doctor of Philosophy in health policy and management), Wheeler has written extensively about cancer prevention and outcomes research, particularly in regard to understanding and reducing health inequities.
She joined the UNC faculty in 2010, and in 2017, was presented with both the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health’s Early Career Health Research Award and UNC-Chapel Hill’s Philip and Ruth Hettleman Prize for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement by Young Faculty.
“It has been said that cancer is an equal opportunity disease,” said Shelton Earp, MD, director of UNC Lineberger, in announcing the new office and Wheeler’s appointment, “but we know through multiple UNC studies that cancer disproportionately affects some populations, and the burden of cancer falls far more heavily on some communities than others. This is true in our state and throughout the country.”
As North Carolina’s only public National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, UNC Lineberger has a longstanding commitment to understanding the impact of cancer across the state, Earp noted.
UNC researchers, who have conducted population-based studies in breast, prostate and head and neck cancers and developed the groundbreaking use of lay health advisers in community- and faith-based settings, have worked to decrease cancer inequities in North Carolina.
“They have introduced both data and interventions into the national conscience,” Earp said. “Yet, there remains so much more to do, and everyone, from the individual to the community to the policy maker, must be involved if we are to be successful.”
Earp said that UNC Lineberger’s efforts will be made more effective by placing greater institutional focus on the issue of health inequities.
“While the office itself is new,” said Earp, “our commitment to studying how cancer [has an impact upon] minority, rural and urban populations in North Carolina is not. For more than 30 years, together with colleagues at the UNC Gillings School and other health affairs and college faculty members, UNC Lineberger has conducted epidemiologic and prevention/control research to identify at-risk communities and develop and study interventions aimed at reducing cancer disparities.”
Earp said that, despite having defined the problems well, inequities still persist based on race, socio-economic status and the rural/urban divide.
“The establishment of the Office of Community Outreach and Engagement is a crucial next step,” he said, “and it will position us to have greater impact in North Carolina and, very likely, across the country.”
Joining Wheeler in the work of the new office will be Barbara Alvarez Martin, MPH, who will serve as assistant director of Community Outreach and Engagement and Population Science, and Marjory Charlot, MD, MPH, MSc, who will be assistant director of Community Outreach and Engagement for Patient-Centered Research.
This piece was featured in UNC’s Gillings School News on March 8, 2019.