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A Closer Look

A Closer Look

Administrator Susan Mills manages the mountains of paperwork generated by VICC’s programs and grants.

June 27, 2013 | Leslie Hill

Photo by Susan Urmy

With binders, files, folders and loose papers overflowing every surface and shelf, Susan Mills’ office is the mission control of Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC). Mills freely and proudly admits she’s a paper pusher, but that paper keeps VICC running.

Mills, associate director for Research Administration, heads a team of three other administrators who oversee the myriad programs and functions of a nationally recognized Comprehensive Cancer Center.

They supervise seven research programs and 13 shared resources, manage VICC’s two Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE), administrate the Meharry/Tennessee State University Cancer Partnership and Southern Community Cohort Study, facilitate meetings and seminars, coordinate external boards overseeing VICC functions, track philanthropic funding and make progress reports for donors.

“I will never see a patient, but I would like to think that something I do makes it easier for the doctor or nurse who does see the patient, so they don’t have to worry about something administrative or bureaucratic but can focus full time on the patient,” Mills said.

Mills was the second employee hired for the newly formed Cancer Center in 1993, following director Hal Moses, M.D. A longtime medical administrator, she was tasked with organizing VICC’s first Cancer Center Support Grant (CCSG) submission, which brings official designation from the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

“Do you know the saying, ‘What you don’t know can’t hurt you?’” Mills asked with a laugh. “I didn’t know anything about writing grants. I thought ‘sure we could do it, no big deal.’”

That first CCSG clocked in at 770 pages.

“Writing grants is one of those things you either love or hate. There really is no middle ground. I just happen blessedly to love grants.

I pick up on the excitement of what is happening and that makes it interesting,” Mills said.

“The latest submission was about 1,410 pages. That shows how we’ve developed and the depth and breadth of what we have to offer.”

Administering the CCSG remains one of Mills’ biggest tasks. VICC must resubmit every five years and each submission requires a site visit by external reviewers.

“As soon as we submit the document, we’re immediately thinking about the site visit coming up in three-four months. It’s between 20-30 reviewers and gives you an opportunity to really show how the existence of an NCI designation helps facilitate discovery and patient care, how there is value added because of their support.”

The NCI site visit is just one of many external reviews that happen each year, and Mills and her team facilitate every detail.

“We’re constantly putting ourselves out there for peer review and would rather our friends help us improve than to find out in an adverse way. That’s another thing that keeps us moving forward. The reviews keep us organized and focused on the ultimate goal, which is the cancer patient,” Mills said.

The next CCSG submission deadline is September 2014, and Mills and her team are already gathering information to include in that document.

– by Leslie Hill