February Physician of the Month: Dr. Darrell Gray II

Dr Darrell Gray II  OSUCCC  James

If you want to keep up with Darrell M. Gray II, MD, MPH, it’s best to drink a cup or two of coffee and lace up your running shoes.

“If you love what you do, it’s not really work,” said the extremely energetic and constantly on-the-go Gray, the physician of the month for February at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).

Gray wears several hats—and loves them all. He is a physician in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition; deputy director of the Center for Cancer Health Equity; and the director of Community Engagement and Equity in Digestive Health. Among his endeavors: Seeing patients and performing colonoscopies and other endoscopic procedures; significant involvement in community outreach and engagement programs to educate people on the importance of cancer prevention; strongly advocating for providing education, medical services and opportunities to underserved, minority populations in central Ohio and beyond.

Gray also leads the Annual Cancer Disparities Conference of the OSUCCC – James, and is involved in the 80% by 2018 program of the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable (designed to increase colorectal cancer screening rates). He also created the Provider and Community Engagement (PACE) Program, an initiative to provide low-to-no cost colonoscopies and patient navigation services for uninsured and underinsured patients in central Ohio.

Need another cup of coffee yet?

He speaks at schools, churches and community organizations, and can often be found leading tours through a 20-feet-long and 10-feet-high inflatable model of a colon that illustrates how polyps can turn into cancer. The “giant colon” and Gray spread the word that colonoscopies can detect pre-cancerous polyps, which can easily be removed through a simple procedure during a colonoscopy. This saves lives.

“It changes people’s minds, and after people walk through it, they say, ‘Where can I sign up for a colonoscopy?” Gray said.

All this desire to connect, help, educate and organize comes from his family.

Gray’s father is a retired doctor who specialized in internal medicine. His mom, Felicia, is a retired elementary school and special education teacher. Several other family members are teachers.

Gray’s interest in medicine began at an early age, amplified by time spent with his father.

“I remember seeing him interact with his patients (in Baltimore, where they lived) and the rapport he had with them. And I saw how I could use my interest in science and in medicine to build relationships and impact lives.”

This led the young Darrell Gray to medical school and impactful community involvement. He came to the OSUCCC – James in 2014.

“Outreach to minority populations is valued here, at The James and at the Wexner Medical Center, and it starts at the top,” Gray said. “When you look at the university’s overall, strategic plan, community engagement is a big part of it. I’m truly blessed to work with a team—schedulers, nurses, medical technicians, patient navigators, program managers and directors, researchers, and physicians—who share my vision and passion.”

We’re just getting started with the list of Gray’s community involvement.

He’s a board member of Ethiopian Tewahedo Social Services, a local non-profit organization that helps immigrants and refugees in central Ohio become self-sufficient. He’s also partnered with the National African American Male Wellness Walk Initiative that was founded to address premature death among African American males.

“Black men have a lower life expectancy than other groups and a higher incidence and death rate from many forms of cancer,” Gray said.

He is also trying to encourage young African American men to consider careers in science and medicine.

“There are less black men in medical school today then there were in 1978,” Gray said. There are multiple reasons, he added, including the lack of role models “who look like them,” the high cost of medical school and the need for pipeline programs extending from primary school to medical school.

Gray regularly meets with and mentors young, African American men to encourage them to pursue careers in medicine, and he helped create #BlackMeninMedicine, a social media campaign designed to further this goal.

As important and vital as all of the above is to Gray, there’s something even higher on his priority list: his family, which includes his wife, Brittney, and their two daughters, Harper, 2, and Ella, 1.

"What Do You Do With A Problem" is one of the their favorite books, because of its lessons for children as well as adults, including Gray.

“Every problem is an opportunity to do something good,” he said, summarizing the moral of the story. “That’s what we do when we address these problems and reach out into the community and look for opportunities to help.”