Surgeon Teresa Rutledge, MD, recently received the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Clinical Investigator Team Leadership Award. Only 11 people nationwide received the award this year. Dr. Rutledge is the third faculty member in the history of the University of New Mexico Cancer Center to be recognized with this honor.
The NCI began awarding its Cancer Clinical Investigator Team Leadership Awards in 2009 and has awarded 46 winners previously. The award recognizes physician-scientists for their efforts in supporting and promoting clinical research. "Clinical research is the only way that we're going to ever improve cancer treatment," says Dr. Rutledge.
Dr. Rutledge has conducted clinical research throughout her career. She actively participates in the newly-refocused National Clinical Trial Network's NRG Oncology Group, which develops clinical trials to improve the lives of people with gender-specific cancers. And, she has helped many of her patients select and enroll in a clinical trial.
Dr. Rutledge also chairs the Protocol Review and Monitoring Committee at the UNM Cancer Center. The committee reviews every available cancer-related clinical trial and decides whether to support it in New Mexico. "We review it for [whether] it will benefit the people of New Mexico," says Dr. Rutledge. "We also review it from a scientific perspective. Is this an important scientific question that our population would benefit from?" Clinical trials opened at the UNM Cancer Center are available to all New Mexicans directly through UNM or through the New Mexico Cancer Care Alliance.
In addition to these efforts, Dr. Rutledge is beginning her own research study in an area she is particularly interested in: cancer survivorship. Working with Anita Kinney, PhD, RN, at the UNM Cancer Center, Dr. Rutledge will conduct focus groups with women in rural areas who have completed treatment for uterine cancer. She will also interview their doctors. "This study is trying to better understand healthcare delivery to rural and underserved uterine cancer patients," Dr. Rutledge says. "Are there ways to give them quality cancer care that doesn't involve traveling 250 miles for a 15-minute follow-up visit? Right now, all the burden is on the patient to get here."
Dr. Rutledge will use the information from the focus groups to design a clinical trial to test ways to improve cancer care delivery. Her award will help to fund this effort. She says, "We often forget the cost that comes with curing the cancer. But patients care that their legs are swollen and that they have to spend $20 in gas to get here to see us. All those things matter."