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Massey’s new director sets bold vision

Robert Winn, M.D., a lung cancer and health disparities expert, began his new role as director of VCU Massey Cancer Center in December. Previously he served as director of the University of Illinois Cancer Center. Photo: Allen Jones, VCU University Marketing

Robert Winn, M.D., began as director of VCU Massey Cancer Center in December 2019 and has quickly hit the ground running to enact an ambitious agenda. Since early March he has also led Massey’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the lives of many patients and families. Protecting cancer patients and team members has been his top priority during the rapidly evolving situation, but he is also working to ensure that Massey can continue its cancer research and laying the groundwork for his future vision.

Winn, an expert in lung cancer and community-based health care, came to VCU from Chicago where he served as director of the University of Illinois Cancer Center and as associate vice chancellor of health affairs for community-based practice at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Science System.

“My story is an interesting one,” Winn said. “When I think about how I became a health care professional and particularly a cancer center director, it is the prime example of people seeing something in me that I may not have seen in myself.”

At Notre Dame, Winn remembers frequently debating two priests who recognized his potential even when he did not see it in himself. In fact, he argued with them that he could not possibly become a physician.

“They ultimately won, thank goodness,” Winn said. “I think I’m a prime example of why pipeline programs are important. It’s been a fun journey, but I would not be here without a lot of help.”

At UICC, he built a community-to-bench integrated health model that brings together both the discovery and implementation sciences into one health delivery and research system, and he oversaw the research and clinical activities of 13 federally qualified health centers.

“Saying ‘yes’ to VCU Massey was one of the easiest things I’ve had to do in my life,” Winn said. “Their mission to relieve suffering and death from cancer is perfectly aligned with my own values and priorities, and I am incredibly impressed with the cancer center’s research, clinical and educational programs as well as the collaboration that Massey fosters across VCU Health and beyond to discover, develop, deliver and teach effective means to prevent, detect, treat and cure cancer. Also, Massey’s commitment to ensuring equal access to cancer care is deeply important to me.”

Support from the Richmond community and Massey’s National Cancer Institute designation were also important factors for Winn, who hopes to build off the cancer center’s momentum and focus on the effort to achieve comprehensive status, which is the top designation from the National Cancer Institute.

Winn holds a B.A. from the University of Notre Dame and an M.D. from the University of Michigan Medical School. He completed an internship and residency in internal medicine at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center in Chicago and a fellowship in pulmonary medicine and critical care at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver. Photo: Allen Jones, VCU University Marketing

Winn’s future vision includes three major themes: continued development of immunotherapy research programs at Massey, the use of robust data analytics to inform the center’s research and care, and engaging with the community to understand their cancer burden so that Massey can tailor its research to make discoveries that better serve their needs and have a greater local impact. He said all of these big picture goals build off the great work of his predecessors and colleagues.

“It’s hard to follow in Dr. Gordon Ginder’s footsteps,” Winn said. “He has built a wonderful foundation. For me, coming in, I feel like I’m the luckiest person in the world. All the things you need to do outstanding care, research and training, we’ve been doing over the years. My goal is to bring a bench-to-community and a community-to-bench model here to Massey. We understand that taking our care and value to the next level will require getting out in the community to educate residents and inform our research and discovery at the same time.”

If you would like to learn more about VCU Massey Cancer Center’s lifesaving work and strategic priorities, contact Martha Quinn, 804-827-0652, or mquinn3@vcu.edu.

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This article and video were developed in partnership with the MCV Foundation.

Written by: Massey Communications Office

Posted on: April 13, 2020

Category: Center news & funding

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