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The Front Line


The Front Line: Charles D. Blanke, MD, SWOG Chair

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Dr. Elise Cook to lead bigger SWOG diversity efforts

December 2, 2016 - In January 2012, a group of 60 SWOG leaders met in Scottsdale, AZ and laid out potential guiding principles for the group. As Chair-Elect, I had the pleasure of codifying that output. Here was one of our most important tenets: “We embrace and encourage diversity in leadership and membership, to effectively solve problems in cancer.”

SWOG has been working hard to fulfill that promise. As part of our NCORP grant, approved in December 2014, SWOG Vice Chair Dr. Dawn Hershman created the recruitment and retention core, a committee of advocates, physicians, nurses and other research professionals. Their charge: Help our members recruit and retain underrepresented patients. Just recently, executive leadership decided that the recruitment and retention core should be promoted to a permanent SWOG committee – and that its charge should expand. Now the committee will not only promote diversity in our patient population, but also in our leadership and membership. I am pleased to announce that Dr. Elise Cook, who led the core, applied for, and was awarded, the position of chair of the new committee.

I am grateful Dr. Cook will continue to lead our expanded recruitment and retention efforts. She has over 20 years of experience in minority recruitment, and was the principal investigator for the SELECT trial at MD Anderson, enrolling nearly 400 patients. Dr. Cook and others helped make SELECT an enormous success. SELECT was the largest U.S. prevention trial, and one in four participants represented a minority group. Dr. Cook has also served as principal investigator of the NIH-funded trial EMPaCT: Enhancing Minority Participation in Clinical Trials, and has widely presented and published on the issue.

Here are some things Dr. Cook and I discussed as important goals for her committee:

Big tent: Dr. Cook not only wants to recruit racial and ethnic minorities, she is also interested in bringing more people who are young, elderly, economically disadvantaged, rural, and LGBTQ into the work of SWOG.

Member focus: Dr. Cook believes that if we diversify membership, it will eventually do the same in leadership. Diverse members are also more likely to serve diverse patients – and enroll them in our trials.

Going grassroots: Dr. Cook has a saying: “Go where the patients are.” In SELECT, that meant churches, barbershops, even college fraternities. Outreach is a frequent tool in her kit.

Big impact: Dr. Cook is not alone in her work. Both NRG and ECOG-ACRIN, two of our partners in the National Clinical Trials Network, have similar minority recruitment committees and they share information. We plan to work closely with both of them.

When asked if there are any keys to attracting underrepresented groups, Dr. Cook says, simply: “Show folks you care. Invite them in. It’s all about relationships.” Please join me in congratulating Dr. Cook – and thanking her. Her team is doing work critical to SWOG’s mission and future success.

In other happy recruitment news, I am pleased to announce that this week we promoted Pat Mize to SWOG grants and contracts manager. Pat is replacing Amber Roberts, who left for a new role at OHSU. Pat is homegrown and fiercely loyal to SWOG. She has worked for us as our payment and post award coordinator since we moved our group chair’s office to the Knight Cancer Institute. She has done an exceptional job to date, earning a reputation as professional, responsive, and hard-working. Pat will be responsible for managing our federal grants, and will help coordinate our upcoming NCTN and NCORP grant renewal efforts in 2018. I could not be happier she is taking on a lead role on our financial management team.

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