MUSC Hollings Cancer Center nurse first in SC to win award


Vicky Agnew

Oct. 17, 2012

MUSC Hollings Cancer Center nurse first in SC to win award

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation honors Debbie Chatman Bryant, DNP, RN

CHARLESTON -- As a nurse who witnessed how cancer and chronic disease ravaged patients, Debbie Chatman Bryant, DNP, RN was determined to do something to help people in the Lowcountry fight the disease.

For her determination to prevent and treat cancer among the medically underserved, Bryant has been named one of 10 recipients of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leaders Award for 2012. The award honors exceptional men and women who have overcome significant obstacles to tackle some of the most challenging health and health care problems facing their communities. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has honored more than 200 community health leaders since 1993. Bryant, director of the MUSC Hollings Cancer Center Outreach Services Program, will receive the award during a ceremony in San Antonio October 17.

“One of the biggest challenges we faced in treating low-income or uninsured patients was that even if we did manage to diagnose them in time, they would not come back for treatment,” Bryant said. “They were afraid of the cost and they didn’t trust the system,” she said. “So we needed to create a system patients would trust so they could get both diagnosed and treated.”

Bryant expanded outreach efforts and changed the center’s communication approach. She wanted patients to be aware of clinical trials and other treatment options. She used a mobile screening van to link the region’s community health centers to Hollings Cancer Center and to provide care in areas where there were very few or no providers.

“When we find something abnormal, we immediately connect the patient with a ‘lay navigator,’” she said. Navigators make sure the patient makes diagnostic follow-up and treatment appointments. “And if not, we literally drive to their house and knock on the door.”

Bryant’s efforts paid off. The number of mobile-unit screenings increased from 1,300 in 2006 to more than 2,000 in both 2010 and 2011. More than half of the patients screened were uninsured or underinsured, and nearly two-thirds of those served say they would not have been screened if not for the mobile van. The program has decreased the number of patients lost to follow-up from 11 percent in 2009 to less than 5 percent in 2010.

Janice Ford Griffin, national program director for Community Health Leaders, said the selection committee honored Bryant for her perseverance in innovating and executing strategies that treat patients as active participants in realistic and practical steps to improve their health. “Dr. Bryant provides a crucial link in assuring residents’ access to information about clinical trials and other sophisticated medical concepts, while at the same time actively mentoring nursing and medical students with advice and support as they pursue their careers.”

As a child growing up in South Carolina during the end of segregation, Bryant was the only African American in the classroom and was often ignored by teachers. It was her family who helped her to believe in herself. Nursing is Bryant’s second career, and she says she never would have completed graduate school and her doctorate without her family’s encouragement. She also believes that family is the key to promoting healthy behaviors. “I’ve seen families provide incredible support to one another in sickness. Now we need to support each other in health,” she said. “And that means making healthy foods part of our family traditions, or taking a walk together after a family meal. We can do this. We have to.” ###

About MUSC

Founded in 1824 in Charleston, The Medical University of South Carolina is the oldest medical school in the South. Today, MUSC continues the tradition of excellence in education, research, and patient care. MUSC educates and trains more than 3,000 students and residents, and has nearly 13,000 employees, including approximately 1,500 faculty members. As the largest non-federal employer in Charleston, the university and its affiliates have collective annual budgets in excess of $1.7 billion. MUSC operates a 750-bed medical center, which includes a nationally recognized Children's Hospital, the Ashley River Tower (cardiovascular, digestive disease, and surgical oncology), and a leading Institute of Psychiatry. For more information on academic information or clinical services, visit For more information on hospital patient services, visit

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, measurable, and timely change. For 40 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime. For more information, visit Follow the Foundation on Twitter or Facebook

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation established the Community Health Leaders Award to recognize individuals who overcome daunting obstacles to improve health and health care in their communities. Today, there are more than 200 outstanding Community Health Leaders from nearly all states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. For more information, visit