Cleo Samuel

Cleo Samuel is an assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management within the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Her research focuses on improving the equity and quality of supportive cancer care — such as care that optimizes comfort, function, social support, and overall quality of life — through the use of health informatics tools that address systemic barriers to care.

Cleo Samuelphoto courtesy of UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health
June 13th, 2018

When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Lots of things! Chef, doctor, and teacher.


“Removing barriers to equitable healthcare.”

Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose your field of study.

After college, I worked as a breast cancer health education coordinator in my hometown of Miami, Florida. In this role, I interacted with thousands of South Florida residents from underserved areas and developed a keen understanding of the various health care challenges plaguing my community, including language barriers, poverty, systemic bias, and un-insurance. My experience, coupled with my commitment to social justice, motivated my decision to pursue graduate training to address health care disparities among racial/ethnic minorities and other underserved populations.

a group of people wearing black aprons

Samuel (third from right) and friends at a cooking class in Barcelona, Spain.

Tell us about a time you encountered a tricky problem. How did you handle it and what did you learn from it?

During an initial research meeting with a new community partner, I made the mistake of presenting a research proposal idea with little to no mention of plans for community involvement. At the time, I had no prior experience with community-engaged research, so my approach to pitching my proposal was all wrong! That meeting was definitely a “pinch moment,” and taught me the importance of engaging community partners at every step. That experience also showed me that power-sharing with community partners often results in more impactful and community-relevant research.

What are your passions outside of science?

As a Christian, my faith is my greatest passion and keeps me grounded in every situation. I am very involved with my church in Durham and have traveled internationally for missionary work. I am also committed to mentoring young women, and currently mentor both students and young professionals in my community.  I have greatly benefited from the guidance of my mentors and find it incredibly rewarding to “pay it forward” by pouring into the lives of others.

I also enjoy traveling and learning about different cultures. As a Miami native and first generation Haitian-American, I was exposed to several cultures from a young age. For example, my best friends in grade school were of Caribbean, Latino, and Filipino descent. Travel and exposure to different cultures has enhanced my cultural sensitivity and humility, and strengthened my ability to adapt to different settings.

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