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Nancy Paris elevates cancer treatment and research in Georgia

11/06/2020, Atlanta Business Chronicle

By Grace Donnelly  – Reporter, Atlanta Business Chronicle

Nancy Paris has served as president and CEO of the Georgia Center for Oncology Research and Education (Georgia CORE) since its creation in 2005.

At the end of the year, she will be retiring after spending her entire career in healthcare, during which she focused on addressing community health issues including homelessness, HIV/AIDS and rural health.

During her time leading Georgia CORE, Paris has worked with public health experts, elected officials and government agencies to advocate for additional funding for cancer research and expanded access to early cancer screening for underserved communities across the state.

According to Georgia CORE, racial and ethnic minorities received 79% of the cancer screening and navigation services, 63% of the genetic screening, testing and counseling, and 23% of the clinical trials provided by the organization and its partners. 

What led you to your career? I moved to Pike County to live on a farm after college. The nearest town of any size was Griffin, and the hospital there hired me as a social worker. From the first day, I knew I belonged in healthcare. It was so uplifting to serve people in need and learn new things every day. It’s been the most rewarding career I could have ever imagined.

Who was your biggest influence in your career? My father was definitely my biggest influence. He was the treasurer of an asphalt paving company and we traveled the state as the interstate highway system was being constructed. He called asphalt the smell of money! I guess you’d say I was the son he never had — he explained business, people, faith and values to me. During WWII he was a cryptographer in the Foreign Service posted to the American Embassy in Moscow. When he returned stateside, all he wanted was a quiet, simple life. It was a family joke that if he told us what he really knew, he’d have to kill us! Needless to say, I never heard any of his secrets, but I’ve watched all the spy movies. 

What has been the biggest challenge in your career or job? It is the constant demand to raise money for a nonprofit organization. Georgia CORE is focused on improving access to cancer care for all Georgians — that’s a huge responsibility. So I am in constant communication with donors, elected officials, public health leaders, government agencies and foundations to strengthen funding and partnerships. That work is never done, but it’s necessary for us to extend high-quality cancer care and research across the state.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job? Serving alongside Georgia CORE’s board of directors of oncologists is a great honor. Together we have crafted an organization like no other in the country. Though caring for cancer patients is physically, emotionally and spiritually challenging, our board is optimistic and energized about the advancements in care and research. They are committed to working together for the benefit of all those with cancer. Whatever competition exists among the healthcare systems they represent is non-existent in the board room. 

What’s the hardest business lesson you’ve learned? The hardest lesson for me has been to understand that healthcare is a business. I firmly believe we have the capacity to provide essential healthcare services to all and that we would be healthier, happier and more productive if we did. Limiting investments in proven public health programs and measuring success based on economics — rather than people — has never made sense to me.     

During your 15 years leading Georgia CORE, what has been the achievement you’re most proud of? I am most proud of our track record of bringing innovative cancer care and screening to minorities and rural communities. Georgia CORE has always made this its top priority. Remarkably, the number of racial and ethnic minorities participating in clinical research through Georgia CORE’s network is more than five times the national average. That’s a result of having a collaborative culture of cancer care, combined with our shared research infrastructure. I am convinced that many lives have been saved through the clinical trials, screening programs and partnerships we’ve developed.

What do you wish people better understood about disparities in healthcare? Addressing disparities is a common topic now, but it wasn’t when Georgia CORE was created in 2003. When we sought to expand access to clinical trials for minorities and rural Georgians, we went to local communities, listened to personal issues, offered resources and established relationships. Our board recruited minority members, we hired minority staff, invited minorities to present at conferences, and gave grants to minority-led organizations. I wish people better understood that where trusting relationships exist, disparities can readily be overcome.

What insights have you gained about the key to successful collaboration? I have always been a person who treasures being part of an outstanding team, so collaboration comes naturally to me. I’m a bridge-builder and a mediator, so I’m not too concerned about “protecting what is mine.” I’m not very effective as a negotiator unless it means that we are all going to benefit from a positive, shared outcome. In general, I would say that successful collaboration requires working together for the greater good and never believing you can take more than you give.

If you had not landed in this career, what would your dream job have been? I’m not sure it would have been a dream job, per se. But if I had not landed here, I like to think I would have remained a social worker, stayed in rural Georgia, had a big garden, raised more kids, enjoyed home-cooked meals, and spent more time on a horse or in a canoe than in a car.

What advice would you give to those who will continue the work to solve these problems? I would harken back to the example set by the Sisters of Mercy, who founded Atlanta’s first hospital. Compassion is essential for health and healing. I encourage all who care for those with cancer honor the intrinsic dignity of each individual and serve with compassion.

Nancy M. Paris

  • Born in: Atlanta
  • Lives in: Druid Hills
  • Age: 66
  • Current job: President and CEO, Georgia CORE
  • Previous job: Vice president, Georgia Cancer Coalition
  • Education: Bachelor's degree, University of Georgia; MSHA, Mercer University; Georgia State University
  • Family: Husband Paul Prebble; daughter Lillian Paris
  • Hobbies: Meditating, cooking, anything outdoors on Saint Simons Island

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