November 5, 2019

Q&A with Dr. Narjust Duma, lung cancer physician and researcher

Madison, Wis. — Physician and researcher , recently joined the faculty at the UW Carbone Cancer Center. Her passion is caring for women with lung cancer and studying the unique challenges they face. She is also committed to raising awareness of the challenges faced by women and underrepresented groups in medicine. Meet Dr. Duma through a brief Q&A below.

Dr. Narjust Duma

Title: Assistant Professor of Medicine, Hematology/Oncology

Hometown: San Cristobal, Venezuela

How did you get into your field of oncology?

During my clinical rotations in medical school, one patient changed my medical career course and ultimately my life. Maria (pseudonym) was a 68-year-old woman with metastatic lung cancer who, even conscious of her diagnosis, never lost her smile. Every day she taught me a new lesson. The one that has stayed with me was in reference to my career in medicine: “No matter how hard life can be, you should know you are doing the right thing.” One day, I went to visit Maria after my shift and found only an empty bed. My patient and friend had passed away the night before. Her hospital roommate shared something from a conversation the two had that touched me deeply. Before passing, Maria had said, “God sent me the daughter that I always wanted just before he wanted me to go.” At that moment, I realized how profoundly doctors could change patients’ lives. This is a responsibility and honor I will never take lightly.

Moving forward, I visited the oncology floors on a regular basis to spend quality time with the patients and encourage their hopes of recovery. In the process, I fell in love with medical oncology. Oncology offers me the opportunity to know my patients in-depth and to hold their hands when necessary. It also provides me with the intellectual challenges I cherish.

What areas of oncology research are you interested in?

My research interests can be divided in two.

First related to thoracic oncology, I have a passion for studying women with lung cancer, their unique challenges, from the stigma associated with lung cancer to the adverse events of therapy. Women and men are biologically different, and they respond and tolerate therapy differently as well. We hope to develop a research program that focuses on women with lung cancer soon. We also have worked and will continue to work in cancer early therapeutics, searching for the new compounds that could have activity against cancer.

The second part of my research interest includes gender and racial equity. We are studying the challenges faced by women and underrepresented groups in medicine, including unconscious bias, gender pay gap, and graduate medical education.

What attracted you to UW-Madison?

I would say the people. I am lucky to have joined an amazing team in the thoracic oncology group. In addition, the many opportunities for future collaborations out of medical oncology, across the university. I also love Madison; the city is vibrant and young.

Tell us something that you are very excited about?

In January, in conjunction with two collaborators including Dr. Mora Pinzon from UW-Madison, we founded a Twitter community called #LatinasInMedicine. Our goal is to amplify and connect Latinas in healthcare across the globe. Recently, we reached our 1,600 followers mark and have developed great programs like a book club and mini-interviews of other Latinas in medicine. Soon we will be launching our first research initiative.

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea?

UW-Madison is working hard in changing and improving the care of our patients with cancer; I feel lucky to be part of an organization in which our patients drive our research, clinical endeavors, and more!

We have so many events outside of the UW Carbone Cancer Center for patients to connect and learn about their conditions, and that is something unique to our institution. I believe we have an event pretty much every month, from Football 101 to Roll and Stroll for pancreatic cancer, to an event for lung cancer patients in early November.