by Ashley Barker
In January, Debbie Bryant, DNP, R.N., didn't think she had even a small chance at winning the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leaders Award. She was nominated by Leonard David, DDS, chair of Hollings Cancer Center disparities board, and went on with her everyday life as the assistant director of cancer prevention, control and outreach at the cancer center.
In March she was asked to fill out a more complete application. In early June, she was informed that she advanced to round three of the process and officials from the foundation would be making a site visit to MUSC in late June. That's when the award suddenly became attainable.
One Friday in August, while Bryant was sitting at her desk on the phone, an email popped up on the screen. The simple word "congratulations" said it all.
Dr. Debbie Bryant, R.N., bottom row, far left, was one of 10 leaders to receive the 2012 Robert Wood Johnson award. She met the other nine winners at an awards ceremony in San Antonio. Bryant is the first South Carolinian to receive the award.
"I was like, 'Oh my God, I won!'" she said. "A few people heard me screaming, and they came down. It was pretty phenomenal."
She was one of 10 leaders to receive the Robert Wood Johnson award, which includes a $105,000 grant to support a defined project at MUSC that Bryant comes up with and a $20,000 grant for her to use for personal development.
The award has "recognized leaders who work in their neighborhoods and communities to address some of the nation's most intractable health care problems" since 1993, according to the foundation's website.
Bryant, the first South Carolinian to receive the award, was honored for several outreach services that she helped establish for the Lowcountry's poor population since joining Hollings Cancer Center in 2005.
They include a voucher system that helps uninsured patients afford follow-up cancer care, a cancer mobile screening unit that provides care in areas with limited access, and a lay-navigators program that connects trained professionals from a similar background to patients for peer counseling.
"For me, my work was really about access to care," she said. "At the end of the road, we're trying to ensure that cancer is diagnosed and treated early."
On Oct. 17, Bryant was invited to San Antonio for a ceremony to meet her fellow 2012 winners and an annual conference of more than 200 other Robert Wood Johnson awardees from the past.
"I felt very special. It was a phenomenal experience, really, truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience," she said.
Back at MUSC now, Bryant is working on a concept for the award-funded project and continuing to find ways to do what the foundation emphasizes.
"When you're here every day, you're just doing your work. You're just trying to make the ball move. You work hard to get it pushed in one direction or the other," she said. "But you don't really feel extraordinary. I didn't know that anyone would feel that I was that great. It's not that folks don't tell you that you're doing a great job here. I'm just one of many doing what needs to be done."
A reception will be held at the Hollings Cancer Center Nov. 19 to celebrate Bryant's award with the MUSC family.
For information about the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leaders Award, visit www.communityhealthleaders.org.