Finding Your Wolfpack in Academic Medicine

Narjust Duma, MD · Duma Lab


May 10, 2022

I remember it like it was yesterday: It was my first American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting. I was a PGY-1 and I was presenting about gastric cancer in Hispanic individuals and the disparities that this population experiences at the time of diagnosis and treatment. I walked into McCormick Place in Chicago and I was stunned; I was at the epicenter of innovation in oncology. I slowly moved in between the crowd and made it to my poster walk.

Quickly, I made it to my poster board, and my mentor helped me hang my first poster at ASCO. I was proud of the work but terrified of not knowing the answer to a question or running into one of my oncology role models. As time passed, I felt more comfortable talking about my research findings.

When the cortisol came down, I realized that I was in a section that did not make much sense for my research. I was in the early therapeutics poster hall; first-in-human studies were next to my humbled retrospective review. A few minutes later, I noticed someone with a poster on cancer health disparities, particularly financial toxicity. She was wearing bright red glasses and was interested in the same things I was; she was a radiation oncology resident. Little did I know that our first conversation would be a long-term work/life friendship.

We both laughed about the fact that we were entirely out of place with our posters and that the crowd walking around was not interested (as we did not have fancy phase 1 trials). That sense of being "out of place" made our friendship grow.

We started communicating more and sharing ideas about future research projects. When the time to find our first faculty jobs came around, we supported each other as we were navigating unknown waters. We shared information about interviews and our opinions about the programs. Having someone with whom you felt comfortable sharing salaries, offers, and start-up packages made the entire process more doable. It felt like an award ceremony when we shared where our first faculty positions were going to be.

Eight years have passed since I first met her at ASCO; now, I cannot imagine a career in academia without one of the essential members of my wolfpack. The key to success in academia is to surround yourself with people that believe in your cause, are not afraid to fight for equality, and are their true selves.

Academic medicine has given me not only a career, a mission, and numerous mentees but also a life-long friend that is always there and will not hesitate to grab a sword and join me in the arena. 

To the new generation of physicians in academic medicine, finding your wolfpack is as crucial as a high-impact journal or passing your boards. Academic medicine is a place where dealing with failure is expected, standards are high or unobtainable, and for people like me, the sense of being "out of place" can be common, so find yourself a wolfpack to be "out of place" together.

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About Dr Narjust Duma
Narjust Duma, MD, is originally from Venezuela, born of a Colombian mother and Dominican father. She completed her internal medicine residency in Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Her clinical interests include the care of women with lung cancer, including their unique aspects of cancer survivorship. She is the principal investigator of the Sexual Health Assessment in Women with Lung Cancer (SHAWL) Study, the largest study to date evaluating sexual dysfunction in women with lung cancer. She also has opened the first clinic in the Midwest dedicated to women with lung cancer only.

Dr Duma is a leading researcher in gender and racial discrimination in medical education and medicine. She is the recipient of the 2018 Resident of the Year Award by the National Hispanic Medical Association, the Mayo Brothers Distinguished Fellowship award, and the 2020 Rising Star award by the LEAD national conference for women in hematology and oncology.

Connect with her:
Twitter: @NarjustDumaMD
Instagram: narjustdumamd

The Duma Lab, formerly known as the Social Justice League, was founded in August 2019 and focuses on social justice issues in medicine, including discrimination and gender bias in academic and clinical medicine, cancer health disparities, and medical education.


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