Increasing the Number of African American Cancer Researchers

In 1998, Rena Pasick, now a professor of medicine and associate director of community education and outreach at the University of California, San Francisco’s Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, founded the Minority Training Program in Cancer Control Research. The program, funded by the National Cancer Institute, aims to encourage Black and other minority graduate students to pursue doctoral degrees and careers in research relating to cancer. The program runs a five-day summer institute, internships in cancer research for minority graduate students, and scholarships to help minority graduate students.


Dr. Pasick notes that “we have made almost no progress in addressing racial cancer disparities in the last 40 years. I believe one of the key elements to solving the problem is that the leaders in the field must need to truly represent the community’s diversity.”

The program is making an impact. Since 1998, 95 students have now obtained a Ph.D. and another 91 are current doctoral students.

PALMERDr. Nynikka Palmer attended the MTPCCR summer institute in 2001. She went on to earn a master of public health degree at Emory University and a doctorate in public health from the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston. She is now an assistant professor in the department of medicine at San Francisco General Hospital, where she researches patient-provider communication and quality of care among African American men with prostate cancer in low-income communities.

“Being a minority researcher is an integral element of doing health care disparities research to me,” said Dr. Palmer. “All too often, we see researchers working in communities where there’s just not that level of trust, and a fear of being taken advantage of by researchers. I engage with and ensure I’m part of the community – rather than just going in to gather data.”


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