The Colorectal Cancer Alliance and its Board of Directors mourn the loss of our esteemed friend and colleague, Dr. Edith Mitchell, MD, MACP, FCCP. Dr. Mitchell had been an enthusiastic member of the Alliance’s Board of Directors since February 2019 and, most recently, served an additional role on our Health Equity Advisory Committee. She was an invaluable champion and advocate of the Alliance’s programs to reduce disparities in colorectal cancer detection and treatment, drawing on her lifetime of experience and education.
Dr. Mitchell was born in 1948 on a farm in Tennessee, the fifth of seven children. Growing up during a time of racial segregation, which extended to hospitals, her family faced challenges in accessing quality medical care. Black doctors were rare, but at three years old, she observed a Black doctor caring for her great-grandfather. The experience proved pivotal, as she decided then to pursue a career in medicine. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Tennessee State University and a medical degree from the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond, where she was the only Black female student in her class. During her medical studies, Dr. Mitchell joined the U.S. Air Force.
Originally planning to serve two years, Dr. Mitchell entered active duty after medical school and rose to U.S. Air Force Brigadier General in 2001 — the first female physician to serve in that position. She was a flight surgeon, flew the F-15 and C-130, and earned more than 15 service medals. In 1995, Dr. Mitchell joined Thomas Jefferson University and became a force in health equity. Last year, she was named Enterprise Vice President for Cancer Disparities at Jefferson Health’s Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, a position tasked with setting the agenda for cancer disparities research. It would be Dr. Mitchell’s final station on a long list of distinguished posts focused on improving healthcare for underserved individuals and communities.
Throughout her career, Dr. Mitchell accumulated more than 100 publications in journals, book chapters, and abstracts. As a distinguished researcher, she received many awards and accolades, including a Cancer Control Award from the American Cancer Society in 2009 for her research in pancreatic cancer and colorectal cancer. In 2012, she created the Center to Eliminate Cancer Disparities at Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center. In 2015, she became the first female oncologist to serve as president of the National Medical Association, the nation's oldest professional society for African American physicians. And from 2019 to 2023, Dr. Mitchell was a member of the President's Cancer Panel — an encore to her service as an advisor to the National Cancer Advisory Board of Vice President Joe Biden’s National Cancer Moonshot Initiative.
Despite her stature in the medical community, Dr. Mitchell always maintained that her focus was not one of personal recognition. Instead, she dedicated herself to addressing healthcare inequities and ensuring underserved populations can access the latest care. As she told The Cancer Letter, “Yes, you have success, but look back and pull somebody behind you, pull them up.” Dr. Mitchell’s legacy is one of selfless service, with an unwavering commitment to addressing the root causes of health disparities. The loss of Dr. Mitchell will be profoundly felt by our community, and our thoughts are with her family, colleagues, and loved ones.
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