Guest Update by Dr. Sanya Springfield
Disparities Summit Offers Real Answers to Real Problems
During major meetings and conferences, it's easy to find ourselves caught up in the moment. Amid supportive colleagues, dramatic presentations, and positive pronouncements, we embrace the spirit of the gathering and find a wellspring of enthusiasm and energy for tackling the challenges that lie ahead. But the real test is what happens when the meeting is over. Will we keep our commitment and resolve when we return home and are faced with the realities that can sap that enthusiasm and energy?
If what happened here last week at the Cancer Health Disparities Summit is any indication, I don't think we have to worry about losing our momentum on this issue. I'm convinced that we're on course to reduce and eventually eliminate cancer health disparities - and our determination is stronger than ever.
The summit, sponsored by NCI and the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NCMHD) of the National Institutes of Health, was something special. I believe the meeting ignited a fire to intensify our efforts going forward. I also think it sharpened our focus about what we need to do and how to do it and - most importantly - helped solidify our efforts by bringing us together to discuss commonalities and shared experiences.
More than 700 participants from as far away as American Samoa attended the summit. We also reached a broader audience through national minority media outlets, which interviewed summit representatives throughout the week.
There were many positive developments from the summit, but three things stood out in particular:
First, the meeting focused on questions and answers. The goal was to develop answers to questions such as, What can we do better? Where are the research gaps? How do we enhance existing programs and resources? How can we apply what we know about cancer overall to cancer disparities research? These are just some of the questions we attempted to explore last week at the summit.
Second, I was gratified by NCI's level of participation. From NCI Acting Director Dr. John Niederhuber to division heads to senior researchers, NCI staff presented information and made themselves available for questions. In describing an expanded research role for the NCI-designated Cancer Centers, Dr. Niederhuber helped the cancer disparities research community see new opportunities to investigate new aspects of cancer health disparities. Dr. Niederhuber is right: We are working to deal with disparities issues at a time when there have never been more opportunities to attack cancer. The pace of discovery makes this a promising time as well as a challenging one.
Finally, I was encouraged by the collaboration that was evident during the summit. Our partnership with NCMHD helped us reach a new milestone in our intra-NIH collaboration on cancer disparities. The partnership mirrored the prevailing attitude among summit participants to cooperate across the issues, regions, and cultures to share ideas, strategies, and resources.
We're eager to begin planning for next year's summit and can't wait to put our plans and ideas for the coming year into action. The formal report of the summit will be posted soon on our Web site: http://crchd.nci.nih.gov/. So many opportunities are within reach. We simply need to reach out and grab hold of them.