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Dr. Jill Biden says community outreach, trust is key to addressing health disparities

Jill Biden
Posted at 6:22 PM, Feb 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-24 18:22:41-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Dr. Jill Biden, the First Lady of the United States, chose VCU’s Massey Cancer Center for her first public trip outside Washington D.C. because of the research and community outreach work done by doctors and health leaders at Massey.

Dr. Biden’s team said cancer research and combating the health disparities within minority communities will be a key priority for her team. Three out four cancer patients at Massey are from vulnerable or minority communities.

“The best science in the world can only go so far without trust, collaboration, and communication with those who need it most. As we’re discussing today, the divide between clinics and communities persists,” Dr. Biden said during a panel discussion with Massey researchers and Richmond faith leaders.

The First Lady heard about the work done at Massey from the Director of the National Cancer Institute and said she “had to see it” for herself. Dr. Robert Winn, the director of Massey, gave Dr. Biden and NCI Director Dr. Ned Sharpless a tour of its research facilities.

The panel discussion that followed focused primarily on being trust between the medical community and marginalized communities.

“Effective treatments and cures require inclusive data and rigorous study,” Dr. Biden said. “I’m just as grateful for the work you do for the art of medicine as well, building trust and relationships.”

One of the programs continually highlighted during the trip was “Facts and Fatih Fridays,” which was launched by Dr. Winn in March 2020 to provide faith leaders with accurate and timely medical data during the early days of COVID-19. In the months since, Dr. Winn said those discussions have included a broad range of topics and have become a personal way of connecting with the Richmond community.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know that you care,” Dr. Winn said, quoting President Teddy Roosevelt. “The miracle drugs and cures that we have, as great as they may be, if people don’t accept them because they don’t trust us, then it’s only doing some, not really good.”

Dr. Biden said community engagement and trust building need to be at the forefront of dialogue surrounding American cancer research and response.

“Building a bridge between science and art, between research and real life, between faith and facts. That’s why I’m here today,” the First Lady said, later directly addressing faith leaders in attendance. “Communities of color, they trust you. Now, I think it’s important that they learn to trust the federal government again.”

Black Americans have higher death rates than all other racial/ethnic groups for many types of cancer.

Dr. Biden and Massey researchers said finding ways to jumpstart conversations about cancer in the Black community is pivotal to addressing that disparity.

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