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Integrating Academic Medicine into Community Oncology

A champion of community-based cancer care, Suzanne Cole, M.D., shares her passion for innovation and clinical research.

As Medical Director of Community Oncology at UT Southwestern Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, Suzanne Cole, M.D., is responsible for providing cancer patients who live in the areas that surround Dallas with the unmatched level of care for which UT Southwestern is known, but in a location that’s convenient to them.

“I have a strong passion for bringing academic oncology closer to the community,” Dr. Cole says. “The significance of this work is not lost on me. It is a matter of life and death for those under my care.”

Dedication to Service

Before joining the UT Southwestern faculty in 2018, Dr. Cole spent eight years caring for patients in rural communities. She is passionate about bringing the UT Southwestern standard of care to patients near our regional locations in Richardson/Plano, southwest Dallas County, and beyond.

Dr. Cole has dedicated her career to treating patients with cancers and blood disorders. In addition to her clinical expertise, she emphasizes the importance of building a trusting relationship between patients and their physicians.

“Effective communication requires awareness of the patient's values, needs, and desired outcomes,” she says. “At our clinics, we strive to include patients and their families in the decision-making process, giving them realistic expectations about prognosis and treatment.”

Integrating Clinical Research into Community Practice

According to Dr. Cole, the latest and most promising therapies, often made available through clinical trials, have shown to significantly improve survival rates across most cancer types.

However, patient enrollment in cancer trials remains low nationwide. “I was shocked to learn that in the United States, less than 5% of cancer patients enroll in clinical trials,” Dr. Cole says.

One of the reasons that so few patients participate is that clinical trials are often conducted at large medical centers in urban areas, while a large fraction of cancer patients receive their care close to home in smaller hospital or clinic settings without access to the latest and most promising research, she says.

“If a patient has cancer, they should not be denied access to a potentially lifesaving clinical trial just because they live two hours away,” she explains.

Throughout her career, Dr. Cole has consistently led the way in designing and operationalizing programs that allow patients to easily join clinical trials in community settings. Leveraging her strong background in research, she and her team have made cutting-edge clinical trials accessible to more patients in local communities.

That means overhauling clinical processes and workflows as well as streamlining policies and procedures pertaining to clinical trial enrollment. Dr. Cole has also succeeded in overcoming clinical trial patient recruitment challenges by securing buy-in from all staff members.

“Every member of the team, including laboratory personnel and infusion nurses, is committed to making clinical trials in the community setting a success,” she says. “Our patients have reported that our environment feels personal, as they have the chance to interact with the same nurse or front desk staff member during each of their visits.”

Suzanne Cole, M.D., is Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at UT Southwestern. She is Medical Director of the Simmons Cancer Center clinic in Richardson, Medical Director of Community Oncology for Simmons Cancer Center, and a member of the Experimental Therapeutics Research Program.