November 21, 2022

Lecture honors first executive director of the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance

The Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance recently sponsored the Clifton K. Meador MD Inaugural Lectureship with Christopher Lathan, MD, MS, MPH, chief clinical access and equity officer, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, serving as keynote speaker.

The Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance sponsored the Clifton K. Meador MD Inaugural Lectureship on Nov. 8 with Christopher Lathan, MD, MS, MPH, chief clinical access and equity officer, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, serving as keynote speaker.

Christopher Lathan, MD, MS, MPH

The lectureship honors Meador, who served as the first executive director of the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance from 1999 to 2012. Founded in 1999, the Alliance bridges the institutions of Meharry Medical College and Vanderbilt University Medical Center. At the Alliance, he was one of the founders and first chairman of the Consortium of Safety Net Providers of Middle Tennessee, a consortium of 23 clinics that served uninsured people. Meador died in October 2021.

Karen Winkfield, MD, PhD, Ingram Professor of Cancer Research and executive director of the Alliance, spoke of Meador’s legacy.

“Today we are honoring the legacy of Dr. Meador. He dedicated his life to improving health outcomes to historically excluded populations by providing advocacy for quality health care in marginalized communities. We hope you can see the impact of Dr. Meador’s legacy through today’s program.”

Lathan joined the thoracic oncology program at Dana-Farber in 2005 as a clinical oncologist focused on the treatment of patients with lung cancer. He is the founding director of the Cancer Care Equity program at Dana-Farber, a clinical outreach program that aids in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer for patients at Whittier Street Health Center in Boston.

His research focus is on the effects of race, class and access to care in cancer outcomes including racial disparities in lung cancer treatment, differences in access to precision medicine by race and social class, and equitable distribution of new treatments across vulnerable populations.

“It’s an honor to be the inaugural keynote speaker. Dr. Meador was a man who was far ahead of his time,” Lathan said. “He saw a need for academic medical centers to really engage with communities. If you want to make real change, you have to go where the folks are. I hope my talk today will honor his legacy.”

Lathan realized early in his career that he was interested in health policy and health disparities work. “There is no discussion of health disparities without talking about institutional inequities because that’s how you’re going to fix a lot of those things,” he said.

“When you’re thinking about race, specifically Black folks in the U.S., they are presenting at later stages for colorectal, breast and cervical cancer. If you look at the overall incidence and mortality rate, even for other groups, if you look at socioeconomic status as a gradient, regardless of your race, you are worse off the less money you have. Then you add to that, the other constructs with structural racism, and you can see the problems that we have.”

Lathan highlighted the good news, too — overall cancer mortality rates are coming down and there are more treatments, including immunotherapy.

“Now that we have more effective treatments, who is getting them?” Lathan asked. “Even though we are narrowing the gaps, there are still some gaps there.”

He concluded his talk by addressing opportunities for all cancer centers to improve access by broadening community partnerships; building community liaisons; creating interventions and measuring the impact; using existing internal navigation practices to address clinical access issues; and improving clinical trial access.

“It all starts with relationships in the community,” he said. “Once you do that, that is your essential building block.”

The following Clifton K. Meador Health Equity poster session winners were recognized during the Nov. 8 event: VUSM students Anika Park and Timothy Wang (first place); VUSM student Daniel Ragheb (second place); and Meharry student Jenee Graham (third place).

Katina Beard, CEO of the Matthew Walker Comprehensive Health Center, received the Dr. Clifton K. Meador Community Health Leadership Award.