Duke Cancer Institute surgeon-scientist Tammara Lynn Watts, MD, PhD, has been named associate director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), DCI, effective July 1.
In this new role, Watts, an associate professor in the Duke Department of Head and Neck Surgery & Communication Sciences, will be responsible for strategic oversight of EDI across DCI’s clinical and academic workforce.
Watts will guide DCI on EDI best practices in recruitment, retention, and advancement, and lead us in expanding the pipeline of DCI clinicians, faculty, staff, and trainees from diverse backgrounds, including from groups that are under-represented in the national oncology workforce.
She will partner with Disease Group administrative directors, faculty, clinicians, and staff leaders in the development and implementation of long- and short-term EDI strategic plans for DCI aligned with the core missions of the National Cancer Institute, Duke University, the School of Medicine, and DUHS.
"Dr. Watts will promote and actively foster an equitable, diverse, and inclusive environment that encourages a culture of belonging across the entirety of DCI’s workforce," said Michael B. Kastan, MD, PhD, executive director of DCI. "Creating this new EDI role and naming Dr. Watts to this role is the next step forward in DCI’s mission to achieve cancer health equity."
Duke Cancer Institute approaches cancer health equity from three separate, but related, vantage points. This includes, in addition to workforce EDI, DCI's Community Outreach, Engagement, and Equity (COEE) program and Office of Cancer Research Career Development (OCRCD).
The COEE program, led by Tomi Akinyemiju, PhD, works toward the elimination of cancer health disparities in the community — with the goal that marginalized, underserved populations have equal access to DCI programs, services, and equitable outcomes.
The OCRCD, led by Gerard Blobe, MD, PhD, has established an educational infrastructure for the training, mentoring, and professional development of DCI clinicians, staff, early-stage to mid-career investigators, and students (from high school through to postdocs), which prepares DCI's workforce to meet the needs of diverse populations in its catchment area.
"Our vision for DCI’s workforce — a clinical and academic workforce that’s reflective of our catchment area — will complement COEE and OCRCD efforts within DCI’s health equity framework," explained deputy director of DCI Steven Patierno, PhD, who, for more than a decade has overseen programs that advance DCI’s mission to eliminate cancer disparities and achieve health equity in the community.
Watts began her career as a surgeon-scientist in 2010 at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, where she remained until joining DCI and Duke in 2019. She takes care of patients with tumors in the head and neck, including oral cancers and skin cancers.
Watts’ research interests include understanding the biology of racial disparities in head and neck cancers and investigations of how the tumor microenvironment contributes to treatment failures in patients with these cancers. She is co-leader of a Developmental Research Program Pilot Award focused on the genomics of racial disparities in head and neck cancer, as part of an NIH-funded Duke Cancer Health Disparities P20 SPORE grant project (2020-23) and NRG Oncology.