Dr. Robert Winn: Virginia’s first African American cancer director

Hidden History

And the 2nd ever in the nation

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — VCU Massey Cancer Center is renowned for its successes and research in cancer treatment, and they have a new man in charge to keep raising the bar. Dr. Robert Winn created history when he received the job at VCU.

“If I think of myself as a cancer director, particularly at VCU Massey, it would probably not be something I thought about as a kid,” Dr. Winn said. “Of the 71 cancer centers that are considered to be designated ‘the finest of the finest’ in the United States, there’s only one cancer director that is African-American, and I happen to be that one.”

Winn comes to Richmond from the University of Illinois at Chicago where he served as director of the University of Illinois Cancer Center. He says Richmond’s diversity and equality have developed a lot over the last decade.

“The historical significance of that actually happening in Virginia particularly in 2020 is definitely not lost on me.”

Dr. Robert Winn

Starting at VCU in December, Winn says he is completely focused on the job ahead.

“The special thing that I will bring here is trying to bring the researchers together with the people who implement that research into the community,” Winn said. “Bringing the science closer to the community and bringing the community closer to science is something near and dear to my heart.”

He is a scientist living the dream and credits his success to those who pushed him to be where he is now. He says he marvels at how spectacular the cancer center at VCU Massey is.

“If you want that new therapeutic drug or that miracle drug that’s actually going to potentially save lives, that is done here at VCU Massey. That’s what I’m really proud of,” said Winn.

Dr. Winn working at VCU Massey Cancer Center

Winn encourages those around him to reach for the stars.

“Not only do I hope to inspire kids around me, but I also hope to inspire adults to take better care of their health,” Winn said.

He also has some advice for those who are considering getting cancer screenings.

“Get it done, get it often, and get it done early for sure.”

Dr. Robert Winn

PER VCU: Dr. Robert Winn is the only African-American director of a National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center. Nationwide, there are 71 cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to lead America’s cancer research and training. VCU Massey Cancer Center is proud to be Richmond’s only NCI-designated cancer center. Of the 1,500 cancer centers in the U.S., only 71 have earned an NCI designation, placing Massey in the top 4 percent nationwide. Massey received a planning grant from the NCI in 1974 to establish a cancer center at VCU and was awarded NCI designation in 1975. We have retained that prestigious designation ever since by continually demonstrating superior research and training capabilities. 

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