Awareness Begins with Access: Medical Student Christopher Fay Leads the Charge for Sunscreen Utilization in Worcester, MA

Feb 20, 2022

Post update: Chris is busier than ever and we’ve featured his exciting updates in our latest feature, “An Interview with Christopher Fay, the Medical Student Leading America’s Fight Against Skin Cancer.”

Check out how his story began to see how far he’s come … 

Keeping up with Christopher Fay as he advocates for sun safety awareness and access

IMPACT Melanoma is proud of the work we do in communities throughout the United States. But we couldn’t accomplish any of this without the support and action of those that approach us with their ideas and desire to do good.

The following is a conversation with Christopher Fay, a med student at T.H. Chan School of Medicine at UMass. Christopher has been extremely busy working with community members, including children in and around Worcester, Massachusetts, to help the overall betterment of their lives.

Part of his initiative is to help facilitate the installation of free sunscreen dispensers around Worcester, with hopes that he instills the lesson with kids to apply sunscreen daily to help prevent health maladies later in life. To him, these lessons all start with access, which is what he’s working to see through.

His work goes beyond what he’s up to with us here at IMPACT Melanoma, which he’ll get into in a moment, but first, we’d like to offer up a heartfelt “Thanks!” to Chris for being a model citizen and invaluable teammate here at IMPACT. It’s people like Chris that help us in our collective quest to raise awareness and extinguish incidences of skin cancer worldwide.

Here’s his IMPACT(ful) story… 

How’d you first learn about IMPACT Melanoma? What led you to connect with them?

About halfway through medical school, I first learned about IMPACT Melanoma while reading about non-profits after someone in my immediate family was diagnosed with melanoma.

Since then, I’ve learned more about IMPACT Melanoma’s impressive skin cancer prevention and early detection initiatives, and I’ve become passionate about these efforts. I’ve primarily been working with Deb Girard (Executive Director), Laurie Seavey (Practice Safe Skin Manager), and Amy Mason (Event and Program Manager), who have been beyond supportive.

Tell us about the work you’ve been doing in your community as a student at UMass. What impassions you about helping your fellow community members?

Since starting medical school, I’ve been involved a program called Sidekicks where I served as a mentor to a patient with a terminal disease and volunteered at free clinics, the emergency room, the Greater Boston Food Bank, and an overnight shelter.

I’m also helping on a health equity research project, updating a dermatology textbook chapter, and creating a dermatology mini-lecture series to be offered at the Family Health Center of Worcester.

Where are you looking to take your studies? What’s your ultimate goal?

I found our dermatology unit during medical school fascinating, and after melanoma impacted my immediate family I became even more curious about this now personal material. These experiences have converged with my projects involving Impact Melanoma, which have focused on free sunscreen dispensers and education in areas with high social vulnerability. After medical school and training, I hope to work in cutaneous oncology.

You’re working to provide over 35 sunscreen dispensers within the Worcester community, which is an admirable thing to do. Why’d you take on this initiative?

I’ve become passionate about this because I believe that behaviors in childhood lead to habits later in life. And, if children in Worcester have more access to sunscreen at our public parks—near the Barnyard Zoo at Greenhill Park or the Spray Park at East Park, etc.—they’ll be more likely to use it and continue to do so later in life.

After all, melanoma is one of the most common cancers diagnosed in young adults, particularly for women. Also, community members of all ages should be able to enjoy the city’s public parks safely, even more important now in the time of COVID-19 when we’re urging people to spend as much time as possible outdoors in the spring, summer, and fall.

This is one of the primary reasons we’re targeting parks in areas with high social vulnerability. I’ve also been working with the CEO of Worcester’s public housing, with plans of deploying dispensers to some of their locations too.

Further, Worcester is the only region in the state with a rising trend for melanoma, per the National Program of Cancer Registries, Cancer Surveillance System (NPCR-CSS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and by the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program.

We’re hoping to finalize the number of dispensers this coming month.

Fortunately, I’ve been working with Parks and Recreation to maximize dispenser locations that could be maintained by staff already present at the locations (e.g., a Barnyard Zoo, spray parks, public pool, beaches).

After finalizing the number of dispensers that do not require supplemental maintenance, we’ll be able to determine the scope of the project for other dispensers that will require us to hire an outside supplemental maintenance company.

Fortunately, I was able to receive $12,000 from UMass Chan Medical School as initial funding for this project. I’ve also been working with Councilor Toomey with hopes of additional City of Worcester funding as well as private funding from businesses involved in the Chamber of Commerce. We’re on track to have a deployment of dispensers by spring 2022.

What’s the scope of the project? Where will dispensers wind up? What other education/awareness initiatives are you tying in (if any)?

Most of the dispensers will be deployed to public parks in Worcester in areas with high social vulnerability (determined by the CDC/ATSDR’s Social Vulnerability Index). While not finalized, we also are planning to deploy additional dispensers to Worcester’s public housing, public schools, and other locations that benefit the city’s employees.

For educational components, we’re working with Youth Opportunities which is a public program through the city’s Health and Human Services department, the Boys and Girls Club of Worcester, and the public schools (although in the early stages with the public schools!). We plan on introducing some of IMPACT Melanoma’s eLearning curriculum.

We’re also coordinating on event days with Youth Opportunities and Boys and Girls Club that will be a mix of education and fun, with a talk from a peer adolescent melanoma survivor, educational posters, UV photography, UV beads, and some fun sun safety items like frisbees and bracelets that say wear SPF 30 or higher.

We’re also in discussion with Worcester’s Human Resources to bring sun safety educational material to Worcester’s outdoor workers too.

What’s the importance of an organization like IMPACT existing?

IMPACT Melanoma is critical for the success of efforts like these. There are many community members—like me, like Councilor Toomey, etc.—who are eager to improve our community. There are obstacles to these efforts, with many obstacles being understandable, such as city entities doing due diligence.

With IMPACT Melanoma, there is ease navigating this, as they have a record of success throughout the country. Worcester is the second-largest city in New England, with a population of around 200,000. These efforts, with IMPACT Melanoma, will have a significant impact on this community, which is impressive in itself but even more impressive when recognizing that Worcester is just one of many communities that IMPACT Melanoma has reached.

It’s no surprise that its programs are award-winning and have been cited in JAMA Dermatology. In short, IMPACT Melanoma has a huge impact on many families across many communities and their efforts should be applauded.

Is there anything further you’d like to address here?

Although I started this work in Worcester and continue to lead it, there is no doubt that it’s a group effort. We wouldn’t be in this position today without support from IMPACT Melanoma’s Deb Girard, Laurie Seavey, Amy Mason.

Councilor Toomey has gone above and beyond in every possible way.

In short, we wouldn’t be here without the time and energy that all members of this team have committed. I feel so fortunate to have such a wonderful, caring team helping with these efforts.

Are you interested in getting involved with IMPACT to make a difference in your community? We’d love to hear from you!


Recent Posts

Be SunSafe 365