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We think of ourselves as a cancer center for all Virginians

Feb 28, 2022

Treymane Robertson

‘We think of ourselves as a cancer center for all Virginians:’ Massey DEI director shares vision for equity at national workshop

VCU Massey Cancer Center’s efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) through practices, procedures, policies, personnel and patient care were part of a national conversation about addressing structural racism in medicine and the disparities that stem from it.

Tremayne D. Robertson, M.Ed., M.S., C.A.S., director of diversity, equity and inclusion, participated in the John Dingell Disparities & Inequities in Cancer panel discussion on Feb. 4. It was part of the 2022 National Cancer Prevention Workshop, presented by the Next Generation Choices Foundation’s Less Cancer campaign.

During the program, Robertson outlined programs currently in place to address disparities throughout Massey’s catchment area, the 66 contiguous localities in the central, eastern and southern areas of Virginia.

“We’re working directly with folks in intentional ways,” explained Robertson. “[We aim to] build trust and give the community information it has requested.”

The panel also covered inequities highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic and how to continue the momentum to find and implement solutions.

“When we put this education out in the world, people can better advocate for themselves,” said Bill Couzens, founder and president of Less Cancer, which has been based in Fauquier County, Va. since 2003. “Everybody deserves the tools to live a healthier life, everybody does. Who you are, where you live, we have to make sure that everyone is healthier.”

Those outreach and educational programs make up a key piece of Massey’s community messaging. Massey’s Facts & Faith Fridays, a monthly conversation that connects Black clergy members and the medical community to discuss health issues and specific needs of congregations; a partnership with the Brunswick Times-Gazette newspaper allows Massey to write columns focusing on prevention, screening and treatment in a county with some of the highest cancer burden in Virginia and the nation; the Community Connection Coalition includes representation from traditionally underserved groups to engage in dialogue to help fill access voids; and the Massey Cancer Center Community Grant Program awards SEED grants to community-led health initiatives supporting Massey’s mission to improve cancer outcomes.

“Essentially my role and where I start is looking at the intersections, the cultural factors, the social determinants of health and making sure that our scientists, our clinicians, the folks in the clinic are pairing that information with the science to do the best that we can for our patients,” said Robertson about his efforts at Massey.

The National Cancer Prevention Workshop included presentations and panel discussions  engaging more than a dozen lawmakers, as well as leaders in medicine, DEI and other stakeholders committed to effecting positive change in health care.

“We are grateful to Massey and Tremayne and the whole team for exploring new avenues for access to those who don’t have it at every level,” said Couzens about the insight Roberston offered on the panel.

Robertson shared how Massey benefits from the cluster hiring model backed by the VCU Office of Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success (IES); it reinforces DEI by hiring faculty into various departments and colleges around interdisciplinary research topics. Massey’s goal is to create a shared resource core.

“We don’t want a workforce that looks, thinks and impacts and engages all of our patients in the same way,” said Robertson. “We want folks who can think outside of the box who had different experiences and who are going to do the best they can for folks throughout Virginia. We think of ourselves as a cancer center for all Virginians, so that is really important for us.”

Representing the VCU IES during the panel discussion was Camille Burnett, Ph.D., M.P.A., APHN-BC, R.N., BScN, D.S.W., F.A.A.N., associate vice president for education and health equity; executive associate director of iCubed; and associate professor at the VCU School of Nursing.

Jolynn Gardner, Ph.D., C.H.E.S., director of the Public Health Program at American University, moderated the panel. Other participants included Rob Marino, Fauquier Free Clinic executive director; and Kathy La Raia, executive director at MNC Oncology Services at Munson Healthcare.

Written by: Amy Lacey

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