Renewed ACTION

student in lab


Chezney Boothe has been set on becoming a doctor since the sixth grade, but it wasn’t until a recruiter representing the UK Markey Cancer Center’s Appalachian Career Training in Oncology (ACTION) Program addressed her small high school class that she had an “Ahha” moment.

Growing up in Hazard – a small town of around 5,000 people in eastern Kentucky – Boothe witnessed firsthand the toll cancer took on her family and community. With several family members who had been diagnosed with or even died from cancer, Boothe still never really grasped the full extent of the cancer crisis in Appalachia. But once she joined ACTION as a high school student, which exposed her to oncology and cancer research, this solidified her desire to pursue it as a career.

chezney boothe - student in the ACTION program
Chezney Boothe, who works in a research lab as part of her ACTION education, learned about the program as a high school student in Hazard, Ky.

“I don’t want there to be kids like me who grow up without knowing their grandparents or repeatedly lose family members to cancer,” said Boothe. “ACTION was the beginning of what has developed into a major passion.”

ACTION, led by director Nathan Vanderford, Ph.D., is a cancer education and training program aimed at high school and undergraduate students from the Appalachian region of Kentucky (where cancer mortality rates are 10% higher than the national average according to the National Cancer Institute). During the two-year program, which recently received a $2 million grant renewal from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to support the program over the next five years, students develop cancer research knowledge and skills through cross-disciplinary, faculty-mentored research experiences including shadowing clinicians, participating in career development activities, and conducting outreach in their communities. The Markey Cancer Foundation provides general operating funds to sustain the program.

Boothe is now a freshman at UK continuing her training through ACTION. She is grateful for the continued mentorship that ACTION provides her.

“This has given me so many opportunities with networking and education. I don’t think I would be where I am right now without my mentors,” she said. “I love that ACTION goes into Appalachian communities and finds really gifted students who are interested in medicine but don’t necessarily have the resources to pursue it and supports them in developing that interest through additional education.”

ACTION, with its commitment to offering enhanced experiential education to students of all backgrounds, prioritizes diversity and inclusivity as vital elements for the future of cancer research and clinical care.

“We’re training these students to be future healthcare providers and researchers who will help us long-term to tackle Appalachian Kentucky’s major cancer problem.”

Nathan Vanderford, Ph.D.

“This generation of students that we’re training will be the providers and the researchers who will ultimately impact change 10, 15 or 20 years from now, and they will help us to solve the burden of cancer in Eastern Kentucky.”

Carrigan Wasilchenko is one of those students. Originally from Stanton, Ky., she is currently a third-year medical student at UK hoping to pursue internal medicine and eventually a fellowship in hematology/ oncology. She was in the second cohort of the ACTION undergrad program back in 2017. Like Boothe, Wasilchenko has been personally affected by cancer, and she credits ACTION for providing her with an invaluable support system. “Having a base network of people that you can talk to and rely on is what makes ACTION so special,” she said.


Since 2016, ACTION has engaged 125 students from 36 Appalachian counties

  • 65 undergraduates
  • 60 high school students

30 alumni have matriculated to medical school

  • 3 of these students have graduated and are now in residency programs (Harvard Medical School, University of Cincinnati and West Virginia University)
  • 4 have matriculated to pharmacy school o 1 graduated and is now a pharmacist in Hazard and an executive fellow at the Kentucky Pharmacists Association
  • 1 student is finishing a Ph.D. in cancer biology
  • 3 alumni have matriculated to physician assistant school
    • 1 graduated and is currently practicing at UK

High School Success
31 out of 33 eligible high school students have matriculated to college

National Impact Publications
Students have co-authored 17 peer-reviewed publications in scientific journals

Literary Contributions
2 books have been published featuring 58 poignant personal essays from students describing their personal experiences with cancer

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