Georgetown Lombardi Physician Receives Hattie McDaniel Health Award

November 16, 2011

Deepa Subramaniam, MD, has built a career on her desire to treat her patients with the utmost respect and dignity, working not just to help them overcome their cancer, but also to alleviate their pain throughout the treatment process.

With an approach to care that is described by the daughter of a patient as “always honest, but never hopeless,” Subramaniam was honored with the Hattie McDaniel Health Award by the Seven Pearls Foundation for her devotion to each patient, as well as her commitment to trying to level the playing field for those who are disadvantaged. The foundation recognized Subramaniam’s work for its impact on reducing cancer health disparities among patients from underserved social, age and ethnic groups.

The Seven Pearls Foundation Inc., presented the award to Subramaniam at a gala reception held June 18 in Washington, DC. Chief of the Center for Thoracic Medical Oncology at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, Subramaniam was nominated for this honor by a former patient and member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., the organization with which the Seven Pearls Foundation is affiliated.

Subramaniam, who joined Georgetown as a faculty member in 2007, serves as the principal investigator of over a dozen clinical trials testing novel drugs in lung cancer and brain tumors. She also works to educate cancer patients, caregivers and the wider public through journal articles, speeches and interviews on national television and radio outlets.                                                  

Dr. Subramaniam’s Message

In her speech at the gala, Subramaniam touched on the idea that while vast improvements have been made in the survival rates for African American cancer patients over the past 50 years, massive disparities still persist.
“The research must continue. The battles must continue to be fought,” she says.                                                                                                                
In addition, Subramaniam stressed the importance of screening measures for all cancer patients, particularly those of African American descent. She explained, “It is very important that each and every one of you here commit yourself to the importance of cancer screening. That counts not just for yourself but [also involves] reaching out into the community and increasing awareness about cancer and about the importance of screening, especially for cancers where prevention or early detection can make a significant difference.”                                                                                                        
Subramaniam’s assertion highlights the American Cancer Society’s statistics for 2011-2012, which show that the most common cancers to affect African-American men and women are prostate cancer and breast cancer, respectively. For both of these cancers, highly effective screening strategies exist that can greatly improve prognosis and survival rates.                                                                                                                      

Adjusting the Focus                                                                                         

The Seven Pearls Foundation and Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority are passionate about raising awareness for cancer health disparities, especially those affecting African American patients. In the gala program, International President of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., Joann Loveless, wrote, “With African- Americans having the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial and ethnic group in the U.S. for most cancers, we can ill afford to let the issue take a back seat in our lives or our outreach focus.”                                                                                                                          
To this end, the organization coordinated its inaugural cancer fundraising gala in conjunction with the Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. and their nonprofit organization, the National Iota Foundation, to raise money for cancer research and patient education efforts as well as promote awareness about cancer health disparities among African Americans.                                                                

Closing the Gap on Health Disparities                                                      

Reducing disparities in cancer educations, prevention and treatment is a goal that permeates the research at Georgetown Lombardi. It was the catalyst for the creation of the Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities Research several years ago.                                                                                                                     
Run by renowned cancer epidemiologist Lucile Adams-Campbell, PhD, this initiative seeks to address both biological and environmental inequities that lead to differences in prevalence and mortality rates in patients of varying demographic groups. Adams-Campbell and her team oversee a body of community-based research that aims to understand and hopefully address these disparities among populations with limited access to information or care.

Dr. Subramaniam accepts her award from the Seven Pearls Foundation, Inc.

Author: Olivia Yankey,Georgetown Lombardi Communications