Faculty Spotlight

Dr. Mark Dignan, PhD, MPH is a Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine and Co-Leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control Research Program at the Markey Cancer Center in the College of Medicine. He is a behavioral scientist whose research focuses on cancer prevention and control mechanisms for rural and medically underserved populations. He has been involved in the Society for Public Health Education, the American Society for Preventive Oncology, the National Rural Health Association, and the American Association for Cancer Research. He is a cancer control investigator who has made significant contributions to cancer prevention and intervention strategies in underrepresented regions, including Eastern Kentucky, and who had great impact in the Colleges of Public Health and Medicine at UK. Dr. Dignan is a founding affiliate of the Center for Health Equity Transformation (CHET).

Dr. Dignan’s drive to collaborate and experience as a senior level behavioral scientist are key qualities that positively impact the CHET community. His experience in community trials, multi-level intervention techniques, extensive networking, diverse areas of medicine, and effective communication skills have all contributed to his successful career as a health equity advocate and medical professional.

Dr. Dignan has always been interested in health equity research: “People who have been discriminated against and the barriers associated with that have always been at the center of this type of research,” Dr. Dignan says, and that is something that drove him to public health work in the first place. While health equity research has evolved over time, Dr. Dignan has been able to adjust to new challenges and overcome them with the hope of improving health equity in local communities and within academia.

When addressing health disparities, Dr. Dignan has acknowledged that teamwork and a sense of understanding of the local community’s needs are key in making progress towards health equity. He thrives when working with and among other professionals, and has made important relationships with others that have enabled him to become successful and make a difference in health equity research.

“I see myself as a collaborator, cancer control person, intervention developer, and rural population researcher…so I am happy to be involved and participate in CHET research and activities in whatever capacity that might be,” Dr. Dignan says.

Dr. Dignan realized the value of collaboration and transdisciplinary research when he designed a project for students to talk about stroke distribution in their environment. Working with a neurologist in the area, Dr. Dignan gained a new appreciation for the insight provided from persons outside his field with whom he was able to draw conclusions and conduct valuable research to make health equity ever better.

Dr. Dignan’s approach to research tends to center around locality, familiar delivery systems, and extensive networking—all of which have enabled his research to focus on the big picture while not losing sight of the individual. One example of this is his current research on multi-level interventions to increase colon cancer prevention. This project, Accelerating Colorectal Cancer Screenings through Implementation Science in Appalachia (ACCSIS), funded by the National Cancer Institute, brings together the University of Kentucky, the Northeast Kentucky Area Health Education Center (NE KY AHEC), and The Ohio State University alongside 12 clinical partners across Kentucky and Ohio in an aim to “decrease colorectal cancer rates by encouraging colorectal cancer screenings through multilevel community and clinical interventions” (Perry, 1).

In conclusion, Dr. Dignan states that, “it [CHET] provides an organizational structure and focal point that helps people see the connections between their own behavior, the environment, and their health.”

Interview and transcription by Hannah Yeager