Making an impact
Pamela Hull, PhD, associate director for population science and community impact at Markey Cancer Center, discusses her role and inspirations.
What is your role at the University of Kentucky?
I am an associate professor in the Department of Behavioral Science in the College of Medicine. Within Markey Cancer Center, I have two hats as associate director. One is to oversee our population research, which includes the cancer prevention and control research program. The other is to oversee the community outreach and engagement programs at the cancer center.
Why did you choose to come to Markey?
I first heard about Markey’s extensive community-engaged research and outreach programs during a presentation by Dr. Robin Vanderpool, who was in this role before me. She talked about how Markey has co-led the Kentucky Cancer Program with the University of Louisville since 1982 with community outreach staff located across the state and how Markey has managed the state’s official cancer coalition, the Kentucky Cancer Consortium, since 2003.
When Dr. Vanderpool moved to the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Evers reached out to me and invited me to come visit. I was fascinated to learn that Markey coordinated research and outreach efforts with many partners across the state that doubled the colon cancer screening rate from 35 percent to 70 percent and led to decreases in colon cancer cases and death rates. I was also impressed with the Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network, which is an innovative clinical outreach program that has improved the quality of cancer care in community-based hospitals across the state.
Markey showed the power of partnerships to actually move the needle on cancer. And Dr. Evers was committed to health equity and investing in further growth of community engagement. That’s why I came here — to be part of those collaborative efforts and to make an impact. That’s why we put “impact” in my title.
What are some of the new community engagement initiatives since you joined Markey?
We expanded our staff with two new community health workers and a new Research Integration Team to manage program evaluation, needs assessment data, quality improvement interventions and sharing Markey research findings back to communities.
We’ve launched several new activities. One is a new Research Advocacy Program for cancer survivors and caregivers to collaborate as partners on research studies. We appointed community impact ambassadors as valuable liaisons with each research program. We created new funding opportunities for community-engaged research pilots and partnership planning projects, and we trained Community Advisory Board members to serve as community reviewers for Markey pilot grant applications.
What inspired you to go into cancer research?
Growing up, I experienced firsthand the harsh reality of not having enough money to cover basic needs, including going to the doctor. I saw how it impacted our family. That inspired my passion to work on health equity and to overcome the social barriers to health, wellness and longevity.
I first started working in cancer prevention research, specifically HPV vaccination and obesity prevention, because a community coalition chose these as priorities. Then I tragically lost my dad to lung cancer. Later my mom was diagnosed with bladder cancer, but fortunately she survived because it was caught early. My dad asked me to do everything I can to help prevent people from getting cancer and get them screened and into treatment as soon as possible so they can have a better chance of surviving. I don’t want other people to lose a loved one like I did. Community-engaged research is one way that I can help.
What do you like most about working at UK and living in Lexington?
I’ve been really impressed with how collaborative, friendly and collegial everybody is. Everybody shares a passion for serving the greater good. Lexington is a beautiful place to live. I love being near the mountains and being surrounded by nature. And I discovered a new taste for bourbon.