Focusing on the Big Picture, Zooming in on the Subject

Some tools translate across occupations. Physicians and photographers need keen observation and non-verbal communication skills to be great. Paul Godley has used them in both roles, as well as building a well-deserved reputation as a national expert on prostate cancer and health disparity issues.

Godley is trained as a cancer epidemiologist and as a physician, answering public health questions at the population level, and working with individual patients as they navigate through a cancer diagnosis.

“My father was an internist, my mother a public health nurse, and my older sister was in medical school when I was in college, all influences on my decision to have a career in medicine. My mother died of colon cancer when I was in medical school, and that had a huge impact on my choice of medical specialty as well as my research interests in cancer prevention,” he explains.

Part of his work is to determine the effectiveness of cancer prevention interventions and treatments to prevent death and increase quality of life. He is also interested in investigating why some populations, particularly racial minorities and other underserved groups, have much poorer results from their cancer treatments when compared to the majority population. Most of his clinical and prevention research has focused on prostate cancer.

With colleagues, Godley extracts practical truths from mountains of data, giving clarity to complex issues. He has studied topics ranging from prostate cancer etiologyIcon indicating that a link will open an external site. to race, healthcare access and physician distrustIcon indicating that a link will open an external site. to the challenges of eliminating health disparities.

At the national level he chaired data safety monitoring committees for two prevention clinical trials, both of which his committee had to close early.  “It’s frustrating to get so far along in a trial and have to stop it because either it’s not helping or there is an increased risk of harm from the intervention. We absolutely need new ideas about prostate cancer prevention,” Godley says.

In North Carolina, Godley’s research also involves extensive collaboration. As director of the UNC Program on Ethnicity, Culture and Health Outcomes (ECHO) and principal investigator of the Carolina Community Network, he works with university faculty, community health professionals and groups to develop community-based research around cancer prevention issues. “It has been a really interesting experience to get out in North Carolina, away from the University. We bring our ideas and get community members’ ideas. We develop these ideas into projects and fund these cancer prevention efforts to get useful outcomes.”

A woman in Malawi, photo by Dr. Godley

Godley pursues another type of collaboration outside his work—with his camera and subjects. As a teenager, he earned the money for his first camera from a paper route, Godley now takes pictures wherever he travels—nationally and internationally.

“I didn’t do much with photography until I started traveling with my family. I pretty much mastered the technical aspects of photography as a teenager. What I bring to it now is a lot more of the social interactive skills. The way a physician and a patient work together is similar to the cooperation you develop with a subject to take a good picture. You may not know their language or their culture, but with nonverbal cues and interactions, we can work together to get a good photograph just as a doctor and patient develop their relationship to make a plan and move forward together.”

Learn More

In this video interview, Dr. Godley discusses the influence of his father, health disparities, prostate cancer research and treatment, the Carolina Community Network and Project ECHO (Ethnicity, Culture and Health Outcomes). Watch video An icon indicating that content may be viewed on YouTube (TM)..

In this video interview, Dr. Godley talks about his interest in photography and provides background about a photo he took in Malawi. Watch video An icon indicating that content may be viewed on YouTube (TM)..

See some of Godley’s photographs An icon indicating that content may be viewed on YouTube (TM)..

Learn more about the work of Carolina Community Network Icon indicating that a link will open an external site..

View a PowerPoint presentation to learn more about health disparities An icon indicating that a link opens a Microsoft PowerPoint file..

Learn more about health disparities research from the Center to Reduce Cancer Health DisparitiesIcon indicating that a link will open an external site. and the National Cancer InstituteIcon indicating that a link will open an external site..