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Rural upbringing ignites passion for helping underserved cancer patient populations


Born and raised in rural North Carolina, Bonny Morris knows firsthand the challenges that patients in rural communities face in accessing cancer care.

Morris, a doctoral candidate in social and behavioral sciences in the Department of Health Behavior and Policy at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, conducts research at VCU Massey Cancer Center that investigates the factors that contribute to cancer treatment disparities in rural communities. Through a rigorous mixed-method design supported by community engagement, she aims to develop targeted, tailored approaches that improve outcomes for underserved cancer patient populations.

Morris was recently awarded the National Cancer Institute Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Fellow Transition Award to facilitate her transition to independent cancer researcher. The honor will provide Morris with over $450,000 in funding for up to six years, covering her dissertation research at VCU and up to four years of postdoctoral studies at the institution of her choosing.

The award was created to help graduate students transition into cancer research postdoctoral appointments, while providing them with career development opportunities relevant to their long-term goals.

Morris conducts her research under the mentorship of Bernard Fuemmeler, Ph.D., associate director for cancer prevention and control and the Gordon D. Ginder, M.D., Chair in Cancer Research at Massey.

“This is a very selective award, and Bonny is one of few awardees committed to studying cancer control and population health,” said Fuemmeler, who is also a professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Policy at the School of Medicine. “Only one graduate student per institution is permitted to apply, and Bonny’s success highlights how VCU Massey Cancer Center is supporting a pipeline of junior scholars in cancer research.”

 “This unique award will also support my postdoctoral research on designing a digital self-management support strategy to increase patient engagement among the rural cancer patient population,” Morris said. “This intervention will be designed with scalability and future dissemination in mind. Data will be collected from participating patients, their providers and community members to inform future implementation efforts.”

Morris obtained her undergraduate degree in public health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2007 and Master of Science degree in public health from Emory University in 2009. Her educational endeavors led her to become a registered nurse in 2012. She worked in oncology nursing at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and Wake Forest Baptist Health Comprehensive Cancer Center.

As she pursues a career in rural cancer control and care delivery, Morris hopes the award will accelerate her progress toward the next phase of her research.

“While I am honored to have been selected to receive this prestigious award, I am most excited about the opportunity it provides to make a difference in the lives of cancer patients living in rural areas,” Morris said. “I am passionate about reducing cancer disparities, and this grant will provide funding to specifically target rural cancer disparities research in the next phase of my career.”