An MUSC nurse was honored Monday for receiving national recognition for a program to make sure more low-income Lowcountry residents are treated for cancer.

Debbie Bryant, assistant director for cancer prevention and control and outreach at the Medical University of South Carolina, is one of 10 recipients nationwide of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leaders Award for 2012.

The award honors exceptional men and women who have overcome significant obstacles to tackle some of the most challenging health care problems facing their communities.

The MUSC program includes a mobile health unit that performs free cancer screenings in low-income communities around the Lowcountry. It also includes “lay navigators” who keep in touch with cancer patients to make sure they keep getting treated.

Bryant is the first person from South Carolina to win the award, MUSC President Ray Greenberg said. He praised Bryant’s work Monday at a reception in her honor at Hollings Cancer Center.

Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., made a surprise appearance, bringing tears to Bryant’s eyes. He noted that Bryant grew up in Moncks Corner and witnessed firsthand the difficulty that low-income residents have getting health care.

“I just wanted to be here today to let her know how much I admire her,” Clyburn said.

Dr. Leonard Davis, chairman of MUSC’s Cancer Disparities Advisory Board, noted that Bryant had to win the trust of residents to persuade them to pay attention to a disease a lot of people would rather not think about.

“The Lowcountry is a better place because of her,” he said.

Bryant recalled her father, a cabinet maker, as inspiration.

“He always told me: ‘It’s not about you. Always remember what your purpose is and why you’re here,’ ” she said. “I’m sorry for the tears, but I’m so happy.”