Dear Colleagues-Friends,

We had the remarkable honor and immense privilege of welcoming First Lady Dr. Jill Biden to Massey Cancer Center and our School of Medicine on Wednesday. While on campus, Dr. Biden visited the labs of several of our research leaders – Dr. Saïd Sebti, Dr. Jose Trevino, Dr. Katherine Tossas and Dr. Arnethea Sutton. She was enthralled to learn about their cutting-edge cancer research and efforts to build trust and collaborate with the community to reduce inequities.

While walking Dr. Biden past the Egyptian Building, Dr. Robert Winn, director of the Massey Cancer Center, recounted to her the history of the East Marshall Street Well, saying proudly how history was again remade last year in that courtyard when well over 100 of our colleagues knelt for 8 minutes, 46 seconds as part of the national White Coats for Black Lives movement.

Thereafter, in the MMEC, Dr. Biden sat alongside Dr. Khalid Matin, Dr. Vanessa Sheppard, Rev. F. Todd Gray, pastor of Fifth Street Baptist Church, and Rudene Mercer Haynes, J.D., a member of Massey’s advisory board and a partner at Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP, to discuss racial disparities in health outcomes, particularly those associated with cancer, and the connections Massey and Dr. Winn have developed with the greater Richmond community through initiatives such as Facts & Faith Fridays.

“The researchers and medical professionals here at Massey are pushing the science of medicine every day,” Dr. Biden said. “But I’m just as grateful for the work [Massey does] for the art of medicine as well. Building trust and relationships. Empowering communities to bring their own talents to this fight.”

Dr. Biden is a longtime advocate for cancer education and research. She shared that when she heard about Massey Cancer Center and its innovative, community-based work during a virtual visit to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), she “had to come here to see for [her]self.”

We are honored that she chose our institution for her first official visit as First Lady outside of Washington, D.C. She was accompanied by NCI Director Dr. Ned Sharpless. In addition to having had a stellar career as a gifted cancer scientist, Dr. Sharpless leads NCI with distinction, and he too has been a powerful voice bringing greater attention to health care disparities in cancer detection, treatment and outcomes.

Even though constrained by social distancing, nearly 2,000 people worldwide joined us for this auspicious occasion, and uptake afterwards was a remarkable way to highlight disparities and the work of our institution. (A recording of this panel discussion is available here.)

This is a testament to all of your incredible dedication and commitment to the diverse communities we serve, as well as the national importance of our health disparities and cancer research.

“This facility is amazing,” Dr. Biden said, later remarking that “everyone can see how passionate you are about bringing communities together and saving lives.”

We thank Dr. Winn for his leadership and his dedication and vision, which have helped Massey and our health system engage and partner with the members of our community in new and meaningful ways. We also are very grateful for all the administrative leaders across the university and health system who came together to make this event run seamlessly in a very short amount of time.

In addition, our thanks go to all our researchers and faculty who are tackling some of the most important health issues of our day and finding new ways to collaborate, convene and engage. Our colleagues and our institution are truly making a difference in our Richmond community and beyond.

With pride in your accomplishments and with gratitude,

Pter F. Buckley, M.D.; Dean, VCU School of Medicine; Executive vice President for Medical Affairs, VCU Health System