Faculty Feature: Staci Young, PhD

Women in meetingStaci Young, PhD, joined the MCW Cancer Center as associate director of community outreach and engagement (COE) in September. In her new role, Dr. Young will lead the team responsible for advancing clinical, research, and policy initiatives that extend the center’s reach with under-resourced groups, and improve access to cancer prevention, life-saving clinical trials, and survivor support groups. In addition to her leadership role at the Cancer Center, Dr. Young will maintain her positions at MCW as the director and senior associate dean for community engagement, the inaugural faculty director for the ThriveOn Collaboration, professor in the department of Family and Community Medicine, professor in the Institute for Health and Equity, and director of the Center for Healthy Communities and Research. Her leadership across MCW, ThriveOn, and the Cancer Center will create important synergies for advancing health equity in collaboration with the broader Wisconsin community. View Dr. Young’s profile and full list of research publications.


Q&A with Staci

What is the focus of your research and why did you choose to pursue this topic?
My research digs deeply into structural determinants of health, i.e., the economic and social conditions that can affect health care access and outcomes. These determinants can have a profound influence on a person’s well-being, impacting both acute and chronic health conditions. As a medical sociologist, my perspectives are guided by an understanding of how groups of people function and communicate within the health care setting and within the communities where our patients live. This certainly applies to my work in cancer research, as these determinants are so intertwined with other health conditions.

What are the biggest challenges our community faces in terms of cancer disparities?

  • Access to consistent, high-quality, affordable health care.
  • Access to the fullest complement of community resources to meet identified needs across the spectrum for individuals and families.
  • Equitable economic investment in communities that have historically faced challenges with affordable housing and job opportunities.

How will your work with the COE team address the challenges mentioned above?
The Cancer Center COE team focuses on forming genuine community and healthcare partnerships to help connect individuals to cancer resources. This is critical for our community members to gain access to quality, affordable care. The team’s dedication to outreach and engagement can also help to drive future research that can inform policy changes. Over time, these efforts can ultimately shift structural inequities and improve health outcomes for individuals and families across our community. Additionally, our strong connection to the Community and Cancer Science Network and its programs is pivotal for reaching under-resourced communities and utilizing transdisciplinary approaches to address cancer disparities.

What advice do you have for researchers interested in studying population health?
This level of research (particularly community-facing work) is an investment of not only time, but requires a deep appreciation for the multitude of factors that affect peoples’ health and their lived experiences. I encourage researchers interested in this work to connect with others who have complimentary areas of expertise and different perspectives, as growing an understanding of the health of populations is complex. Having a strong, diverse mentorship team is also critical for young investigators to refine their work and enhance the quality and impact of their research over time.

How can Cancer Center faculty and staff support COE efforts?
Whether it’s through a basic science, clinical research, or population science lens, faculty and staff should develop a broad understanding of how community engagement can enhance their work. Building connections with the community can help cancer investigators in all areas identify research priorities, improve study recruitment and retention, enhance cultural competence, and gain valuable feedback, among many other benefits. Individuals working at our Cancer Center can also support the COE team and the community by engaging in events, either through promotion, volunteering, or representation. Your participation is always greatly appreciated, as is your expertise and voice in advocating for cancer prevention!