Kelly Palmer named BizTucson Next Generation Leader

April 4, 2024

Kelly Palmer, PhD, an assistant professor in the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and associate director of the UArizona Center for Health Disparities Research, has been named one of BizTucson’s 2024 Next Gen Leaders

The business magazine, which covers Southern Arizona, names “20 rising stars to watch” each year. The story announcing the awardees noted that, “This group of leaders and visionaries includes business-builders, change-makers, community creators and problem-solvers who are working toward a prosperous future for Tucson and Southern Arizona. Using 21st century skills, technology and innovation, they seek to build a region where current and future generations can thrive.”

Portrait of Kelly Palmer standing outside smiling with her arms crossed.

Kelly Palmer, PhD

“It is an honor being named a Next Generation Leader by BizTucson,” said Palmer, who is also the assistant director of inclusivity, diversity, equity and accessibility for the UArizona Cancer Center and on the board of directors of El Rio Health. “I go to work every day, like most people, just hoping to do a good job, to do good work. For me, good work is helping people live happy, healthy lives. Being recognized for my efforts toward this goal is confirmation that I am where I am supposed to be and doing what I am called to do.”

Palmer’s research focuses on health disparities; diabetes; chronic disease intervention and prevention; and inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility. As a member of the Cancer Center, this includes investigating ways to engage with underserved populations, particularly Black women, in cancer screening, intervention and research. 

“I am currently developing interventions to screen Black women for diabetes and cervical cancer in hair salons,” Palmer said. “I am also conducting a study using virtual reality to reduce social isolation and loneliness among older, Black church members.”

“Dr. Palmer is doing great work in the region,” said Juanita Merchant, MD, PhD, interim director of the UArizona Cancer Center, Regents’ Professor and chief of the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson. “Her focus on public health and helping lead our new office of Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility is instrumental in meeting the needs of the cancer center’s catchment area and helping to reduce health disparities.”

“I'm so pleased to see this recognition for Dr. Kelly Palmer,” said Iman A. Hakim, MD, PhD, dean of the Zuckerman College of Public Health. “We're very fortunate to have her. Kelly's passion for helping others and her leadership abilities have already made a difference for communities here in Tucson, and I know she will continue to work for health equity in Arizona and beyond. She truly is a rising star in public health.”

Palmer earned her doctorate in Health Behavior Health Promotion from the Zuckerman College of Public Health in 2021 while working as an administrator for the Center for Health Disparities Research and joined the faculty soon after. She is also on the board of the Coalition for African American Health and Wellness in Tucson and a member of the Sarver Heart Center

“Receiving this award says to me that the work I am doing matters and the communities I seek to help matter,” Palmer said. “Seeing the health disparities of groups that have been historically marginalized, particularly Black Americans, pushes me to do whatever I can, to use my skills, experiences and resources to engage and empower these communities in pursuit of health equity — giving people what they need to achieve their optimal health.”


Palmer discusses her work addressing health and racial disparities among women.