Faculty Feature: Lisa Sanchez-Johnsen, PhD, MS

Lisa Sanchez-Johnsen, PhD, MSLisa Sanchez-Johnsen, PhD, MS, joined the MCW Cancer Center in 2023 from Rush Medical College and Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. As the inaugural Associate Director of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging (EDIB), Dr. Sanchez-Johnsen is focused on ensuring equity, diversity, and inclusion are an integral part of the Cancer Center’s culture and celebrated through its people, processes, research, and strategic investments. She looks forward to collaborating with individuals and teams to build the center’s new Office of EDIB that will help improve awareness, knowledge, and skills in these critical areas.

Q&A with Lisa

Why did you choose to be part of the MCW Cancer Center?
Joining the MCW Cancer Center was an easy decision for many reasons. First, I was excited to serve in an EDIB leadership role and expand that work across the institution and into my own research. Third, I was given the opportunity to serve alongside internationally recognized leaders in the Cancer Center, MCW’s Institute for Health and Equity, and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine—all of which are highly supportive of EDIB initiatives. Fourth, and most importantly, I was impressed by our faculty, staff, members, and leaders that have their hearts and minds in the right place to further these efforts.

What is the focus of your research?
My research takes a closer look at how obesity and tobacco use are associated with different cancers. Specifically, my work addresses culture-based obesity (diet, physical activity, and body image) and tobacco interventions and assessments for diverse ethnic groups using community-engaged approaches; disparities in weight loss after bariatric surgery across ethnic groups; and cancer and diabetes risk reduction across ethnic groups. These efforts are highly community-engaged, participatory, and culture-centered. I also look forward to conducting research as part of the Office of EDIB.

What are the goals of the new Office of EDIB?
The Office of EDIB aims to create a culture of inclusivity and belonging that advances diversity and equity for all, and ensures the Cancer Center is a place where everyone feels welcomed and that they belong. We all come from diverse backgrounds—a term our Office defines in the broadest sense, and in which all dimensions of diversity are respected. These dimensions include race, ethnic background, age, disability status, rural/urban background, sexual orientation, gender expression, and religion, to name a few. Our goal is to promote a cultural of inclusivity and belonging through various initiatives and activities that are currently in development.

Why is EDIB important in cancer research?
EDIB plays an important role in diversifying our cancer research workforce, making use of the unique expertise every person brings to our center, and learning from differing perspectives to tackle scientific challenges from every angle. The Office of EDIB is partnering with several individuals and teams, including the Cancer Center Adult Clinical Trials Office and the Cancer Related Training & Education Coordination team, to develop a highly successful and productive workforce.

EDIB is also imperative in cancer clinical trials. Removing systemic barriers so that all people in our community have access to clinical trials can help reduce disparities that exist in diagnosis, prevention, treatment, and survivorship care. The Office will also collaborate with the Cancer Center Community Outreach and Engagement team to ensure that community members are included in the design and conceptualization of our research studies so that all participants receive culturally appropriate care.

What are some of your favorite cultural traditions?
I have favorite traditions across many different cultures, likely because I was born and raised in Hawaii, which is one of the most racially diverse states. I also have multiple ethnic heritages that shape a multicultural perspective and deep appreciation of all cultures in my personal and professional life.

  • To celebrate my Hispanic/Latino background, I enjoy eating ‘pasteles’ and ‘arroz con gandules’ during the holiday season. For New Years, we typically have a small luau, which is a native Hawaiian celebration and feast.
  • In honor of my German heritage, I participate in the fun activities surrounding Octoberfest. I’m excited to be in Milwaukee this year because no one celebrates Octoberfest better than Wisconsinites!
  • Growing up in Hawaii, my favorite activities were dancing hula and eating all of the delicious fresh food, such as ahi (tuna), poke, pineapples, sweet strawberry guavas, and bananas. I also enjoyed having last-minute picnics or pau hanas (after work parties) at the beach or elsewhere.
  • On New Years Eve and the Fourth of July I enjoy burning fireworks, a tradition that comes from China. Generations of my family members go all out lighting fireworks; it’s a fun activity that I hope to keep going for many years!