Karen Winkfield Named Executive Director of Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance

Karen Winkfield, MD, PhD, associate professor of Radiation Oncology at Wake Forest University, associate director for Community Outreach and Engagement, and director of the Office of Cancer Health Equity at Wake Forest Baptist Comprehensive Cancer Center, has been named the new executive director of the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance. She will begin Nov. 1.

Winkfield succeeds Consuelo Wilkins, MD, MSCI, who has served as the Alliance’s director since 2012. Wilkins is currently the co-principal investigator (co-PI) of Vanderbilt’s Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA), professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s (VUMC) Vice President for Health Equity.

As part of her new role, Wilkins will continue to work closely with VUMC and Meharry Medical College to ensure their investigators have access to expert faculty collaborators, core resources and services to catalyze innovative research.

“For more than 20 years the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance has fulfilled a strategic mission, joining our historic institutions together to serve the community in new ways while advancing our understanding of health disparities through groundbreaking research. Dr. Winkfield is a highly accomplished physician scientist whose experience in issues of health equity makes her ideally suited for this role,” said Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer for VUMC and Dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

“I want to express my appreciation to Dr. Wilkins and other members of the search committee for their outstanding work to identify such a strong successor to serve as the Alliance’s next executive director.”

Winkfield specializes in the use of radiation therapy in the treatment of hematologic malignancies (lymphoma, leukemia, multiple myeloma, bone marrow transplantation) and breast cancer. She developed the first comprehensive clinical program focused on hematologic malignancies in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital. With support of collaborating oncologists, she also established the first multidisciplinary clinic for patients with hematologic disorders.

She’s a national expert in community engagement with research focused on the design and implementation of programming to reduce sociocultural and economic barriers that contribute to disparate health outcomes for racial/ethnic minorities and underserved populations.

While at Massachusetts General, Winkfield was a co-principal investigator of a $3 million grant that established the Lazarex-MGH Cancer Care Equity Program, a program designed to improve clinical trial access and enrollment in vulnerable populations. She was responsible for the community outreach and education component of the grant. She has continued this work at Wake Forest.

Prior to joining Wake Forest in August 2016, Winkfield was a radiation oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center. She received her bachelor’s degree from Binghamton University and her medical and PhD degrees from Duke University School of Medicine. Her residency training was at Duke and the Harvard Radiation Oncology program.

“Dr. Winkfield is an outstanding leader with a deep commitment to health equity and the overarching goals of the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance,” Wilkins said. “She has distinguished herself as an innovative and strategic thinker who can bring together groups across organizations and communities. We are fortunate to have someone with Dr. Winkfield’s vast experience and dedication to excellence lead the Alliance into its next phase.”

James E.K. Hildreth, PhD, MD, President and Chief Executive Officer of Meharry Medical College, said he is excited to welcome Winkfield to the Alliance. “Dr. Winkfield is an extremely accomplished clinician, scholar and academic leader with a proven commitment to engaging communities to enhance the impact of academic programs and research. I look forward to working with her as she advances the mission of the Alliance.”

Winkfield was the second black woman to graduate from the Medical Scientist Training Program at Duke. While an MD/PhD student, she restarted the Duke chapter of the American Medical Women’s Association, which is still active, and served as president of the Student National Medical Association.

Nationally, she is co-founder and director of the Association of Black Radiation Oncologists and served as chair of the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s Health Disparities Committee from 2016-2017.

In a 2018 study, Winkfield evaluated the management and outcomes of women diagnosed with primary breast lymphoma (PBL), an uncommon condition comprising less than 1% of breast malignancies and less than 3% of lymphomas. She evaluated the management and outcomes of women diagnosed with PBL to study the relationship between type of treatment and risk of recurrence to ensure patients are not undergoing unnecessary treatments.

She also studied the effects of radiation on different skin types and has worked to develop an animal model that will help better understand how different skin types respond to radiation. She received a pilot grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to support this work.

“I am excited to join the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance and am truly humbled to have been selected to lead this initiative,” Winkfield said. “It is an incredible honor to follow in the footsteps of Dr. (Cliff) Meador, the first executive director of the MVA, and Dr. Wilkins, who has vastly expanded the research expertise of the MVA. My hope is to build on their success by harnessing the expertise at both Meharry and Vanderbilt to create sustainable academic-community partnerships that truly meet the needs of the communities we serve.”

Winkfield said the COVID pandemic has highlighted the significant deficits inherent in the current health care system that disproportionately impact communities of color.

“Now, more than ever, it is vital that we work together. Bringing together a multidisciplinary team that includes community stakeholders will enable an approach that is highly centered on reaching people where they are. Only through the development of targeted policy, research, and community engagement strategies can we begin to fill these gaps and ensure health equity for all peoples, regardless of their background. I am thrilled to carry the MVA mantle and look forward to further expanding its ability to create sustainable programs designed to reduce health disparities.”

Winkfield is married to Chef JD Walker; their daughter, Ashley, is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The search committee that selected Winkfield, chaired by Wilkins, was comprised of Gordon Bernard, MD, Donald Brady, MD, and Bob Dittus, MD, MPH, from the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine; Cherae Farmer-Dixon, DMD, Veronica Mallett, MD, and Duane Smoot, MD, FACP, FACG, AGAF, from Meharry Medical College, and Linda Norman, DSN, RN, FAAN, dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing.

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