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Heather Brandt receives award from South Carolina Public Health Association for contributions to public health

February 12, 2018 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu 

Members of the South Carolina Public Health Association wanted to present the J. Marion Sims Award to health promotion, education, and behavior (HPEB) associate professor Heather Brandt at their annual meeting in May of 2017, but she was teaching in Costa Rica through the USC Global Health Program. They made several more attempts to surprise her with the award, before finally presenting it to her at her office in the Arnold School of Public Health [Brandt is pictured center in photo above].

The reason Brandt was difficult to pin down is the same reason she received the award—she is constantly contributing to the field of public health. Over the past two decades, Brandt has worked tirelessly to educate and mentor students, serve in various leadership roles within her field, and advance research and community partnerships in the areas of cancer prevention and control, particularly HPV vaccination, cervical cancer screening, and colorectal cancer screening.

“Dr. Brandt is well known in the community for her commitment to working with others to reduce health disparities,” says Thomas Chandler, dean of the Arnold School. “She is highly collaborative and willing to do whatever it takes to improve health outcomes in the Midlands and across the state. Her long-running record of frequent and impactful community service is reflective of her unwavering commitment to help build healthy communities.”

During the historic flooding that occurred in 2015, Brandt volunteered with community task forces and local organizations (e.g., St. Andrew Middle School shelter, Transitions, My Carolina Alumni Association) and later conducted research to learn how to best leverage social media during disasters. She also has contributed to groups such as Contemporaries of the Columbia Museum of Art and Women in Philanthropy of the United Way of the Midlands.

Within her profession, Brandt leads an active research program that focuses on preventing and controlling cervical and colorectal cancers to reduce health disparities. Through her efforts, she has held leadership roles with the South Carolina Cancer Alliance, South Carolina Cancer Control Advisory Committee, South Carolina Cervical Cancer Awareness Initiative, National Colorectal Cancer Round Table, National HPV Vaccination Round Table, and the American Public Health Association. Brandt also advocated for the successful passage of the Cervical Cancer Prevention Act of 2016 and co-founded Cervical Cancer-Free South Carolina as well as the consulting organization, 1000 Feathers, which assists non-profit and service organizations.

Beyond these service commitments and her own research within the HPEB department, Brandt collaborates on community-based research initiatives with entities such as the MUSC Hollings Cancer Center’s Cancer Control Program, SmartState Technology Center to Promote Healthy Lifestyles, Center for Colon Cancer Research, and the Cancer Prevention and Control Program.

“If you ask Dr. Brandt to describe her motivation to do the work she does, you will likely hear that she strongly believes in the simple idea of ‘pay it forward’,” says Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School Cheryl Addy. “Her work, both through her profession or through volunteerism reflects her strong sense of social justice and commitment so critical to the disciplines of public health.”

The James A. Keith Excellence in Teaching Award winner (2015) also makes ample time for educating and mentoring future public health researchers and professionals. Brandt is respected and valued by students at all levels. She guides UofSC’s more than 7,000 graduate students through her role as associate dean for professional development in the Graduate School.

Given J. Marion Sims’ role as the “father of gynecology,” the present award aligns well with Brandt’s mission to improve the health and wellbeing of South Carolinians through HPV vaccination and cervical cancer prevention and control, particularly for women and minorities. Sims’ discoveries were the result of experimenting on enslaved African American women. Brandt, upon accepting the award, acknowledged the tainted history of the award’s namesake and indicated her strong commitment to continue to ensure that her work is done with communities not on them and not without their informed consent.

“I am honored to receive this award, which reflects the work and support of many, many people,” she said. “However, this award is bitterweet because of the sullied history of Dr. Sims’ research. I view this award as a sign of the importance of working to overcome these types of injustices in order to eliminate health disparities and achieve health equity for all.”

January was Cervical Health Awareness Month. If you are a woman, get screened for cervical cancer, as recommended. If you are between the ages of 9 and 26, male or female, get vaccinated against HPV to prevent cancer.