The newly created position underscores the cancer center’s commitment to identifying and addressing issues and organizational structures that impede the development of a more inclusive workplace as well as to enhancing the cancer care of all North Carolinians. Brewster’s appointment recognizes her consistent leadership in advancing critical initiatives in each of UNC Lineberger’s missions.
“We were incredibly fortunate to have Dr. Wendy Brewster accept the leadership of the Lineberger Equity Council formed to identify barriers that prevent us from being a more inclusive organization for our staff and faculty, to incorporate principles of diversity, equity and inclusion into our research infrastructure, and to create new, better and measurable pathways toward excellence in cancer care for all populations,” said Shelley Earp, MD, UNC Lineberger director. “Her tireless and effective leadership and the need to sustain the effort led the center to create this associate director position; fortunately, Dr. Brewster agreed to take on the challenge.”
Brewster, professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the UNC School of Medicine and director of the UNC Center for Women’s Health Research, is a practicing gynecologic oncologist, a cancer epidemiologist and a researcher on several active projects identifying at risk populations and mechanisms that lead to poor outcomes in endometrial, ovarian and cervical cancers.
UNC Lineberger established the Equity Council in 2020 under the leadership of Brewster and Samuel Cykert, MD, to critically evaluate, outline and address the opportunities to bring the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion into six core areas of the cancer center and cancer care. In Phase I of this process, the Lineberger Equity Council evaluated the cancer center’s environment and analyzed needs to improve. Through that process they have identified and prioritized a list of actionable areas. Phase II will implement meaningful and measurable changes.
The Equity Council is working collaboratively across the university and health care system to enhance existing programs and policies and to integrate with other UNC schools and the health care system that extends across North Carolina’s rural and urban populations and serves patients that span the racial, ethnic and socio-demographic continuum.
“We live in complex, complicated times that are made even more challenging during a pandemic,” Brewster said. “Equity must be integral to the conduct of research and clinical trial recruitment. We want Lineberger to be to one of the first comprehensive cancer centers in the country to build transparent systems and interventions that will achieve equity in cancer care and outcomes.
“It’s important to recruit and retain staff, faculty, clinicians, and institutional leaders who reflect the diversity of the population we serve,” Brewster added. “There is never a good time to allow anyone under the Lineberger umbrella to believe they are not valued or that they don’t have an opportunity to succeed and contribute to our important mission. Finally, and, in many ways, most importantly, our culture needs to be consciously understood and addressed and be one that affirms diversity and does not tolerate aggression.”
The overall program under Brewster’s leadership will organize the cancer center, university, and health care system in a commitment to work through ineffective systems that prevent the inclusion of Black, indigenous and people of color and underrepresented groups from maximizing their potential and advancing into leadership. This objective will enable the cancer center to reflect the population, deliver the best care, conduct the highest impact research, and train the best researchers, clinicians and scholars.
“We are quite fortunate to have strong leadership support across the cancer center, the North Carolina Cancer Hospital and the UNC School of Medicine that enables us to tackle the hard questions and issues associated with diversity, equity and inclusion,” Brewster said. “This is difficult but necessary work. We must have an environment that promotes open and frank communication that includes responsiveness. This will increase our growth both individually and as an organization, and it will encourage people to be an active champion of their area of influence and work.”