Vanessa Sheppard, Ph.D., holds dual appointments in the VCU School of Medicine and VCU Massey Cancer Center (MCC). She serves as Theresa A. Thomas Memorial Chair in Cancer Prevention; Control Associate Director, Community Outreach Engagement and Health Disparities, MCC; and Department Chair and Professor, Health Behavior and Policy. She is Founding Director, Office of Health Equity and Disparities Research, and Co-leader of the MCC Cancer Prevention Control Program. Dr. Sheppard came to VCU in 2016 from Georgetown University because of the opportunities here to focus on health inequity research and work with our Minority Underserved NCI Community Oncology Program.

Dr. Sheppard’s research focus is cancer disparities with an emphasis on breast cancer, cancer care delivery, behavioral trials and longitudinal cohorts. Her approach embeds clinical research in the community to achieve equity, using community navigators to educate and support people through their cancer care and to improve access to treatments and clinical trials. Dr. Sheppard recently discussed her commitment to eliminating cancer disparities with Dr. Jill Biden during her February 24, 2021, visit to MCC.

“While I agree that it is critical that she be valued as a scientist, I feel it is only to our good fortune that she is valued for her ability to convey the importance of healthcare for all to the broader community,” states Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., Alice T. and William H. Goodwin, Jr. Dean, VCU College of Engineering.

Dr. Sheppard’s research has earned steady and robust funding and is currently funded through six American Cancer Society, NCI/NIH/DHHS, and National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences grants. She has overseen an over 43% increase in health disparities funding at MCC. She has over 110 peer-reviewed publications which have been cited over 1,800 times.

Mentoring students and junior colleagues is a passion of Dr. Sheppard’s. As Megan C. Edmonds, M.P.H., Ph.D., explains, working with Dr. Sheppard “ … has resulted in numerous learning opportunities that have fueled my professional development. … I have been able to build my publication record, with a 7 published articles to date; and … submission of a funded NIH grant pilot award and presentations at several national conferences. I also received numerous postdoctoral fellowships offers from top research one institutions.”

Another mentee, Arnethea L. Sutton, Ph.D. Postdoctoral Fellow, VCU Health Behavior and Policy, agrees, “When I started as her postdoc, I had no publications and no funding. Guided by her very intense, yet strategic mentoring style, I was able to publish over 20 manuscripts in the past 4 years, secure pilot funding and was recently awarded a prestigious K99/R00 grant from the NCI.

Dr. Sheppard serves as Grant Reviewer, NCI Subcommittee F, NIH, and has served as an American Association for Cancer Education Board Member since 2016 and an external advisor for the Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Modeling Network (CISNET) and as a Permanent Member of Nursing Related Clinical Services, Study Section, NIH-NINR. She serves as a reviewer for many high-impact journals. Dr. Sheppard was honored with the 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award from the College of Health Sciences, Old Dominion University, and received the 2001 AAMC Herbert W. Nickens, M.D., Junior Faculty Achievement Award and was recognized by AAMC for her subsequent accomplishments.

As Kathy Tossas, Ph.D., M.S., Assistant Professor, Health Behavior & Policy; Affiliate Assistant Professor, Family Medicine & Population Health; Harrison Endowed Scholar in Cancer Research & MCC Member summarizes: “Dr. Sheppard is a change agent, who is a catalyst of social justice and champion of health equity. Her steadfast leadership and unwavering dedication to excellence have not only carried her through, but have inspired others to do, and be better. … I am honored to have her as a mentor, chair and role model.”