By Jeff Tucker

Research Recruit

Cheryl Sampson Hired to Lead UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Clinical Research Office

Clinical trials form the backbone of the care provided at The University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center and making certain that the right trials are offered for the right patients is the first step to advancing cancer care, not just for New Mexico, but for everyone.

“At the end of the day, everything we do that is standard of care at one point was a clinical trial,” said Cheryl Sampson, MBA, newly hired director of the Cancer Center's Clinical Research Office.

Sampson will also serve as executive director of the New Mexico Cancer Research Alliance. She has been in both positions since February.

Sampson has close to 25 years in health care research administration, but that’s not where she started her career.

“My very first director, before she was a research director, was a really good friend,” Sampson said. “I was in an accounting position for an equipment company. She was looking for an administrative assistant.”

Sampson jumped at the opportunity, at Moffitt Cancer Center, in Tampa, Fla. (affiliated with the University of South Florida), and began working through the job promotion process.

The transition from general accounting to health care research posed unique challenges.

“Oncology has its own unique language,” Sampson said. “I was blessed with my first research director. She and I would get together on weekends for training sessions. She took me under her wing and trained me on the terminology and processes. At this point I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

She was promoted to a research compliance specialist, then into a supervisory position and eventually a leadership role.

Prior to coming to the UNM Cancer Center, Sampson served as vice president for research administration at SCL Health in Colorado.

She was the first person to serve in the role, helping coordinate and establish a centralized research operation at the health system.

“At the time, it was very decentralized, she said. “There was no research department. Each care site, if they wanted to do research, had their own program. None of the sites had standardized operating procedures. People may or may not have reported to someone who understood research. That’s really why I was brought in was to standardize and bring it all under one infrastructure.”

Sampson’s experience at both a university cancer center and in the health system setting gives her a unique combination of experience that suits the unique nature of the job in New Mexico.

“The New Mexico Cancer Research Alliance does a lot of work with community organizations like Presbyterian and Lovelace,” she said. “Having that blend of experience on the site side and on the university side actually interested me because it’s almost like my career has come full circle.”

At UNM and the New Mexico Cancer Research Alliance, Sampson will oversee a variety of tasks, from managing budgets to tracking clinical trials and making sure the trials offered at the UNM Cancer Center work for the population it serves.

“It’s really a matter of blending all of that together and making sure we have the right type of infrastructure to support our physicians who want to do clinical trials,” Sampson said. “It’s making sure patients are enrolled and their treatment follows our research protocols.”

There are eligibility criteria for every clinical trial, and one of the research office’s responsibilities is to make sure individual trials are a good fit for the UNM Cancer Center’s patients, Sampson said. That means tracking patients who come through the center to see if there’s a population of patients that fit the criteria. It’s also making sure there are not similar trials open already at the Cancer Center.

“It can sound very complicated, and it is. But it’s also essentially having the right people in the right positions too,” she said. “I do have a team and everybody has their niche.”

The research conducted at a comprehensive cancer center is not just crucial to the future of cancer care, but also to its present, Sampson said.

“Research is a significant component to getting designation by the National Cancer Institute as a comprehensive cancer center,” she said. “There are patients and caregivers who look for that information when deciding on a cancer center, or maybe they’ve heard about a clinical trial because anybody can go to clinical and see which ones are available and where. It’s important.”

The UNM Cancer Center’s Clinical Research Office can be reached at 505-272-5490, or by email at

Categories: Comprehensive Cancer Center