The University of Tennessee Health Science Center has received the platinum level Skin Smart Campus Award from the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention thanks to the work of a dedicated group of medical students.
The award recognizes a commitment to promoting skin cancer prevention and UV safety education, ensuring the well-being of the campus community, and providing a safe, healthy learning and living environment on and off campus.
Numerous studies have found skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, and melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer—is one of the most common cancers diagnosed among young adults. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer Working Group, the use of indoor tanning facilities before age 35 increases the risk for melanoma by 75%.
The Indoor Tan-Free Skin Smart Campus Initiative was developed in response to the 2014 U.S. Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer, which concluded there is a strong association between increased risk of skin cancer and indoor tanning use. Skin Smart Campuses pledge to keep indoor tanning devices off the campus and out of all affiliated buildings.
The National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention awards two free sunscreen dispensers and a year’s worth of sunscreen as part of the platinum award. UTHSC’s dispensers will be installed at the Student Alumni Center and General Education Building, which see a high volume of students. Shannon Han, a fourth-year student in the UTHSC College of Medicine, hopes the dispensers will serve as a tangible reminder to the campus community to take steps to protect their skin while spending time outdoors.
“I believe that installing these sunscreen dispensers is one step toward a more active fight to prevent skin cancer,” Han said. “Sun safety is so important, especially in a city like Memphis where we have a lot of sun exposure year-round.”
Han and two other students, Anna Conner and Sonja Lipman, MD, who graduated in May, led the initiative to become an SSC. “The initiative really drew me in,” Han said. “I am interested in the community outreach aspect of medicine. I really wanted to feel more engaged in educating and raising awareness about skin safety in our school and community.”
The students received full support from Tejesh Patel, MD, FAAD, chair of the UTHSC Department of Dermatology. “We are excited to be recognized as a Skin Smart Campus,” Dr. Patel said. “Taking these kinds of simple steps toward promoting skin health and preventing skin cancer is important, and I am excited to see the enthusiasm from our students to engage and educate our community.”
Scott Strome, MD, executive dean of the College of Medicine, echoed Dr. Patel. “We are incredibly appreciative of the commitment of our medical students and faculty to the prevention of skin cancers,” he said. “Student-driven initiatives like these give me tremendous confidence in the future of medicine and are a source of pride for all of our faculty involved in education.”
As part of the SSC criteria, Han created an educational webpage with important information about skin cancer prevention. She hopes it will raise awareness and encourage positive behavioral change within the campus community. The students also hope their classmates, faculty, and staff will use the provided sunscreen, learn how to perform self-skin exams, and start checking the UV index as often as they check the weather app on their phone.
“Most of my study breaks are spent outdoors walking around campus,” Conner said. “Having access to sunscreen will help protect our community from harmful UV rays and skin cancer. I hope this allows students and the UTHSC community to enjoy our outdoor spaces.”
“I think this is a great opportunity to work on education and outreach about skin cancer, the importance of good skin health, and proper sun safety practices—not only for our students, faculty, and staff, but also for the surrounding community,” Han said. “Our city has a large population of African Americans, and I believe it’s common to have a false sense of security because of naturally darker skin tones, which ultimately leads to stigma about the need for sunscreen.”
Looking forward, Han would like to implement a sunscreen dispenser program throughout Memphis. “I hope that we can eventually make these dispensers as easily accessible as hand sanitizer dispensers and extend this to the greater Memphis community we serve to continue promoting better health,” she said. “I also hope we can one day implement a tinted sunscreen that is more compatible and comfortable for people with darker skin tones.”