PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — A former U.S. Navy flight surgeon once stationed in Hampton Roads is now heading one of the largest cancer-fighting organizations in the country.

Dr. David Penberthy was recently elected president of the Association of Community Cancer Centers, an organization of more than 2,000 cancer programs nationwide and one that our hospitals here in Hampton Roads are a part of.

From a U.S. Navy physician to a radiation oncologist, Penberthy has been a doctor for nearly three decades.

“I’ve been a physician for 27 years,” said Penberthy.

Today, Penberthy serves as medical director of radiation oncology at Bon Secours Southside Medical Center in Petersburg and is president of the ACCC. He also served as a flight surgeon at Naval Air Station Oceana in the mid-90s after completing flight training in Pensacola and a general surgery internship in Bethesda.

“I was with VF-101 fixed-wing fighters so I lived the ‘Top Gun’ lifestyle. My mother actually developed breast cancer and she ended up dying of breast cancer. She was in Michigan at the time, so I got the chance to meet her team of physicians and one of the physicians was a radiation oncologist and he used all this applied technology into the field of medicine and my background is an electrical engineer and I thought this was a nice way to apply my talents to the field of medicine,” Penberthy stated.

Penberthy has dedicated his career to improving the lives of cancer patients not just in Virginia but all over the country.

“We are literally surveilling the landscape all across America to find out what people are doing in large ways and in small ways to enhance the delivery of oncology care. My hospital’s a 300-bed hospital south of Richmond in Petersburg, Va. and we can do oncology care at a level that can rival some of the major academic centers,” Penberthy explained.

Within oncology, Penberthy specializes in using artificial intelligence to fight cancer ad says some hospitals in the ACCC are using technology to create 3D tumors and do away with waiting rooms.

“I’m just really, really optimistic for the future. We’ve come a long ways and have a long ways to go and we’re getting there. Slowly, but surely,” Penberthy said.

To those battling cancer and caring for someone with cancer, he says there’s a reason for optimism.

“I think AI has a massive opportunity in healthcare right now. The way we have done things in the past is probably not the way we’re going to do things in the future,” Penberthy said.

More than two-thirds of the nation’s oncology programs make up the ACCC. Locally, Bon Secours, Riverside and Virginia Oncology Associates take part in the organization.