Cancer Health [www.CancerHealth.com], an online resource for people with cancer, has recognized Erin Kobetz, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate director of Population Sciences and Cancer Disparity at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, as one of 25 national leaders who are fighting to break down the barriers preventing all Americans from having access to the best cancer care.
Started in 2017, Cancer Health empowers those living with cancer to manage and improve their health, as well as advocate for their care. This year’s focus in the community’s annual list of Cancer Health’s Change Makers is on Black lives. Among the 25 recipients in 2021 are physicians, scientists, patient advocates, cancer survivors and others who have demonstrated unwavering commitment to addressing inequities in cancer awareness and care, particularly those that disproportionately affect Blacks.
Dr. Kobetz’s recognition focuses on her research collaborations with the South Florida Haitian diaspora community.
“Our goal is to understand and address why Haitian immigrant women are at increased risk for developing and dying from cancer,” Dr. Kobetz said. “That work is very much steeped in a participatory approach to science, where community members work alongside me and my colleagues to help us formulate the research questions that should be asked, and the best approaches by which to successfully ask those questions.”
Building bridges to the underserved
The approach helps bridge the chasm that often exists between academic medical centers and underserved communities that are disenfranchised from health care and research opportunities, according to Dr. Kobetz, who also is the University of Miami’s vice provost for research and scholarship, and professor of medicine, public health sciences, marine biology and ecology.
According to Cancer Health, Dr. Kobetz reached out directly to the community of Little Haiti and was able to successfully collaborate with local experts to find culturally sensitive ways to improve screening.
“We are stronger together,” is her motto.
Collaborative research with members in underserved communities has become a model for how researchers at the Miller School work with diverse communities in South Florida, as well as how National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers can engage their catchment area in science that is mutually beneficial, she said.
The Cancer Health 25: Black Lives Matter list includes many people that Dr. Kobetz said she knows and admires.
One is Robert Winn, M.D., director of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Massey Cancer Center, whom she refers to as “an old friend and colleague. He is a staunch advocate for ensuring the representation of diverse communities in translational science,” she said.
Another, Marcella Nunez-Smith, M.D., M.H.S., associate dean at Yale University, has devoted her career to examining social and structural drivers of health disparities among marginalized populations and works to improve cancer health and health care equity. This year, she became a senior adviser to the White House COVID-19 Response Team and chair of the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force.
It’s the right thing to do
Dr. Kobetz said she has devoted her career to breaking down health care disparities because it is the right thing to do. And she continues her work with Miller School colleagues in Little Haiti.
“We have a regular presence in Little Haiti,” she said. “Our Sylvester Game Changer vehicle is there on a weekly basis, and we work with the Center for Haitian Studies, which was my earliest community partner, to ensure that we are closing gaps to cancer education and access to screening.”
The Cancer Health recognition reflects the Miller School’s commitment to advance solutions for health equity, she added.
“My recognition shines light on what we are doing institutionally to chase this particular dream,” Dr. Kobetz said. “For me, personally, the recognition reminds me that the work is not done. We still have a lot to do, and that is the hunger that keeps me motivated. That reminds me of my why.”