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Erin Kent is a health services researcher who focuses on the impact of social context on cancer control, including family caregiving for cancer patients population-based research, measurement of patient-reported outcomes and experience of care measurement. She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

How did you get into cancer outcomes research?
My mentors! I was interested in epi methods when I entered graduate school but unclear how vast the research area of cancer research is. My PhD advisor at UC Irvine, Dr. Hoda Anton-Culver led several studies in cancer etiology. Being mentored both by her and her colleague, a passionate oncologist who worked works with AYAs, Dr. Lenny Sender, drew me more and more toward outcomes that occur for patients after diagnosis. From there, I did a postdoc at NCI to get training in cancer survivorship with Dr. Julia Rowland. I really found my groove at NCI, connecting the dots from ideas to funding to grants, and really how research, policy and practice intersect. I loved my time there, but I was eager go get back to a university setting, to work more closely with patients, their families to design meaningful research, and of course, students.

What projects are you currently working on? 
If you get stuck with me for more than 5 minutes, you’ll probably hear me mention something about family caregivers. Cancer is like a pebble in a puddle, rippling outward to affect family and friends, in addition to patients themselves. Understanding and improving upon the impact of cancer on throughout a patient’s network is my passion. Currently, Dr. Leeza Park and I are leading a Lineberger-funded study to characterize the impact of cancer on cancer caregivers in the rural context which we plan to use to help adapt interventions to support these populations.

In an alternate universe, what is a different career path you might have taken?
Probably early childhood education at a nature/science center, which I did for a while in graduate school. I love working with kids and witnessing them wonder, unabashedly, about everything.

Tell us something about yourself that your colleagues would find surprising.
Before entering epidemiology and health services research, I received a Master’s in Animal Behavior and worked largely in marine science. I worked on several marine mammal population studies (migration patterns, social affiliation, population health). It was a tissue sample field study that actually got me interested in epidemiology; we were comparing two populations of bottlenose dolphins in southeast estuaries (Charleston, SC and the Indian River Lagoon, FL) and finding notable health differences we were attributing to water quality. It got me hooked on environmental and social epi. I traded analyzing photographs of dorsal fins for human patient survey and interview responses, but a lot carried over. I’d almost always rather be on or in the water than wherever I am, though!

What books or magazines are on your nightstand right now?
Calypso by David Sedaris – great humor for these dark times by a famous North Carolinian writer. Bonus, Sedaris himself narrates the audiobook.

The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper – Perspective from an emergency medicine doc about broken bodies and our broken society, as witnessed from the emergency room.

The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America by Ai-Jen Poo – great book that discusses the growing elderly demographic and explores how we care for and support quality of life for older Americans.