News & Events

Summer Camp for Grown-Ups

July 22, 2015   |   Matthew Nielsen

As a urologic oncologist and health services researcher, with many of my colleagues, I’ve spent a lot of my research time and energy to date describing the world of patient care and outcomes.  As with most areas of cancer care, there are many gaps between the normative recommendations of our evidence base and guidelines and what happens in the real world of the delivery system, but it’s been difficult to see examples of how simply describing these gaps will move the field forward.

Last year, my friend and urology colleague, Ted Skolarus, introduced me to the work he is doing to improve prostate cancer care in the VA, which opened my eyes to the scope and breadth of dissemination and implementation research in cancer.  From there I was fortunate to learn more about the field from Bryan Weiner here in Chapel Hill, and became excited about the possibilities for translational research focused on opening up the bottlenecks between what seem like the right things to do and what actually gets done.  I learned that in addition to superb local mentorship from Anne Sales, Ted was also in the inaugural class of postdoctoral fellows in the NCI-supported Mentored Training in Dissemination and Implementation Research in Cancer (MT-DIRC) fellowship out of Washington University in St. Louis.  Bryan subsequently connected me with Sarah Birken, one of Ted’s co-MT-DIRC fellows here on our faculty at UNC.  With advice and guidance from them, it became clear how this field of inquiry aligned with the logical next steps of our group’s work in bladder cancer, and I was fortunate to have the privilege to bring my embryonic ideas to MT-DIRC this summer.

When I was a kid, I went to a French language immersion summer camp in Minnesota.  As a clinician-researcher many years later, I had similar feelings about my initial experience at MT-DIRC.  The other “campers” were friendly, interesting people from all over the world.  The faculty were not only collegial and fluent in this new (to me) language, but in the case of MT-DIRC, clearly world leaders in this area of science.  The combination of didactic lectures, panel discussions, and working groups provided a great introductory immersion, helping me start to understand the language and customs, and social activities provided opportunities to network and get to know the diverse participants.  As a D&I neophyte, I’m still on the steep part of the learning curve, but left the summer institute with increased enthusiasm, a substantially stronger footing, and gratitude for the opportunity to learn this highly relevant field in this unique program.  I look forward to continuing this mentored learning process over the next two years and strongly encourage those with an interest in translating knowledge to practice to apply.