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Stefanek joins CCRI

Published on Wednesday, August 28, 2019

By: Cynthia Wall

Portrait of Michael Stefanek

Dr. Michael Stefanek has joined the UMMC Cancer Center and Research Institute as head of its Cancer Control, Epidemiology and Disparities Program.

Stefanek is a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior and the Department of Population Health the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

“One of our major tasks is to understand the causes of the poor cancer outcomes in Mississippi,” said Dr. John Ruckdeschel, CCRI director. “This is an incredibly complex task as it is heavily involved with understanding human behavior in addition to the scientific aspects of these disparities. 

“Mike is one of the most experienced investigators in the country in this area and will be a huge addition to our leadership group,” he said.

Dr. Nita Maihle, professor of hematology and the CCRI associate director for research, said she came to know Stefanek through his work in the field of psychosocial aspects of inherited risk for developing breast cancer.

“His more recent studies in the field of decision-making are vital to the successful integration of public health information into the community,” she said. “UMMC is so fortunate to have recruited someone of Dr. Stefanek’s experience to head our efforts in the field of cancer control.”

Stefanek comes from Augusta University where he chaired and was a professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences, and full member of the Georgia Cancer Center.

He’ll continue to foster and conduct research at CCRI, helping create collaborative research groups involving researchers at UMMC, University of Mississippi, Mississippi State University and nationally.

“It seemed to be an opportunity to work with many talented collaborators to make an impact on Mississippi,” Stefanek said. He’s already begun meeting with researchers across the UMMC campus and beyond.

Another attraction: “Virtually everyone I talk to has a lot of passion about making things better.”

“It’s really important to have collaborative ventures,” he said.

Working across disciplines almost always serves to strengthen the science and increase the impact of the research, he said.

He’s also interested in helping young researchers. “At this point in my career, I’m even more interested in collaboration and helping other people’s careers,” he said.

Some of the Cancer Control Program’s work will focus on how people make decisions and how people process risk. That may provide answers to questions that often arise such as:

  • What would encourage people and their families to engage in health behaviors?
  • What’s the best way to provide information about the benefits and costs of screening for certain types of cancer?
  • How can we understand and impact health disparities related to cancer in Mississippi?

Stefanek’s previous appointments include associate vice president for Research and Collaborative Research Programs at Indiana University, vice president, behavioral research and director, Behavioral Research Center of the American Cancer Society, chief of the Basic and Biobehavioral Research Branch in the Division of Cancer Control, Population Sciences at the National Cancer Institute, a part of the National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services. 

He began his career as a cancer control researcher with the Johns Hopkins Cancer Center, working in the area of breast cancer early detection, co-directing a service for women at increased risk of developing breast cancer.

He received his doctorate in clinical psychology from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Va., and completed a pre-doctoral internship at Johns Hopkins Department of Psychiatry. He has over 100 scientific publications; served on committees for multiple national organizations; review panels for national and international organizations; editorial boards for journals; and an ad hoc reviewer for multiple journals.