Lourdes Valdez and Ramneek Dhami, two medical students at the University of Nevada, Reno, hosted a free skin cancer screening clinic in the spring of 2022 that was open to all college students and staff. The clinic was in partnership with the Nevada Cancer Coalition of the Center for Molecular Medicine.
Valdez and Dhami chose to host the event in May, skin cancer awareness month, in hopes of promoting skin cancer preventive measures and healthy sun safety practices.
“It is estimated that 770 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in Reno by 2022,” Valdez said. “As medical students and Nevadans, we feel a passion for community involvement in skin cancer awareness as Reno has 252 sunny days and is at a higher elevation, putting our local community members at greater risk of developing skin cancer.”
Valdez is passionate about raising awareness about skin cancer in people of color, especially in a place exposed to a lot of sunlight all year round.
“As a dark-skinned Mexican-American citizen, I thought my pigmentation would protect me from the harmful rays of the sun that caused skin cancer. I never received formal education on this subject, especially for people who were like me,” Valdez said. “So as a kid I would hardly ever wear sunscreen, and now, as an adult, that’s one of my biggest regrets and one of the reasons I’m so passionate about skin cancer awareness.”
Likewise, Dhami also has a personal passion for raising awareness of people of color skin cancer and raising awareness for those groups.
“This was a personal anecdote for me. I never learned skin cancer prevention methods growing up because I think my family just didn’t know. I think this is a similar story for many people of color and children of immigrants,” Dhami said.
Misconceptions about people of color not having to wear sunscreen can be dangerous, as sun exposure can make people more susceptible to skin cancer. The medical students explained that sharing good education and awareness is necessary, especially in communities where people do not take necessary precautions, such as applying sunscreen or checking their skin for new or changing lesions.
“A lot of people don’t know about skin cancer, its dangers or its risk factors, unless there is a family history involved. Although the skin is the largest organ in the body, we tend not to take care of it the way we do with other parts of the body,” Dhami said. “We wanted to host the free clinic to spread awareness about skin cancer and encourage people to take care of their skin, learn about skin cancer risk factors, and be vigilant for signs of skin changes.”
Several groups supported the two during the event and helped provide resources and education to both volunteers and students.
“This event would not have been possible without the gracious support of the Skin Cancer Dermatology Institute, the Nevada Cancer Coalition, the Office of Medical Research and all of the wonderful volunteers who participated in the event,” said Valdez. “The amazing providers at SCDI have not only donated their time, but [also] their expertise, in educating patients and our fellow student volunteers about skin cancer. Christine Thompson of the Nevada Cancer Coalition also played an important role in spreading awareness, setting up a booth during the event offering free sunscreen sticks, UV bracelets and general information about sun safety for patients during the event.
According to Valdez and Dhami, 43 individuals associated with the university attended the free clinic. Among the suppliers were six dermatology providers, as well as 12 medical and physician assistant student volunteers.
“We hope to repeat the event next year, on a larger scale and available to the public rather than just to UNR affiliates. We hope to run larger skin cancer screening clinics for the public, especially targeting areas that don’t have direct access to health care,” Valdez said. “We also give presentations on skin cancer prevention in health and physical education classes at Washoe County School schools. District and hope to extend these presentations to sports programs in the schools, as well as the UNR campus intramural sports teams.”