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College of Social Work

Owens Selected as a 40 Under 40 Leader in Health

March 4, 2020
Chris Woodley •

Illinois Congresswoman Robin Kelly, the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust Chair, said, “Our country needs new leaders to fulfill the dream of eliminating health disparities in a generation.” Thanks to his innovations for older adults and cancer patients, Assistant Professor Shaun Owens was selected last month as one of the 40 Under 40 Leaders in Health.  

“It feels great to be recognized for the work I have accomplished over the last several years in health and cancer disparities,” Owens said. “Most times you realize the work you're doing is important, and your goal is to have national impact. But sometimes it’s hard to assess the actual impact your individual work has on the progress towards health equity.

It feels remarkable when you have this type of national recognition. To be recognized with a prestigious group of individuals from multiple disciplines is a privilege and encourages me to keep pushing forward on my research and development efforts.”

The award is presented by the National Minority Quality Forum, a research and educational organization dedicated to ensuring that high-risk racial and ethnic populations and communities receive optimal health care. The honorees represent the next generation of thought leaders in reducing health disparities to build sustainable healthy communities.

“In 2020, a host of unacceptable health disparities still plague our country. These new leaders are on the front lines working to eliminate health disparities, so they don’t impact this next generation,” Congresswoman Kelly said. “Their fresh ideas, innovative research, and robust advocacy will improve public health outcomes across our nation and make a critical difference in communities of color that disproportionally feel the sting of health inequity.”

Owens is associate director for strategy and innovation for the University of South Carolina SmartHOME Center. The center helps older adults remain healthy and independent by developing technologies that enable them to remain at home with adequate support. More than a decade ago, Owens also began a quest to eliminate prostate cancer disparities among African American men, and his agenda expanded to lung cancer and healthy aging. Primarily a cancer disparities researcher, he has developed technologies to enhance decision making for prostate and lung cancer patients across the continuum of care. For example, Owens developed and recently evaluated a computer-based, Avatar-led decision tool, iDecide, for African American men to assist with decisions about prostate cancer screening. He recently co-developed a mobile app prototype, Breathe Easier, a mindfulness-based program for supporting symptom reduction among survivors of lung cancer and their family members. Owens is currently involved in the evaluation of a tablet computer-based decision aid, “Is Lung Cancer Screening for You,” for people at a high risk for lung cancer.

“Interventions such as iDecide and Breathe Easier can significantly enhance the lives of the individuals who use these tools,” said Owens. “For example, Breathe Easier uses varying levels of yoga, meditation and other activities to help reduce people's stress, limit their sleep disturbances and literally help them breathe easier. I don’t simply involve myself because it seems cool, but because I know some technologies can enhance access to a specific intervention and be used as a vehicle to enhance what we know scientifically about how to intervene in minority populations. My ultimate goal is to significantly reduce all cancer disparities.”

Owens and the other 40 Under 40 honorees will receive their award at the 2020 NMQF Leadership Summit on Health Disparities and CBC Spring Health Braintrust Gala Dinner in Washington on April 28.

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