Tuesday, June 30, 2015

UAB Women in Medicine: Wendy Demark-Wahnefried. Ph.D., R.D.

Q&A With Dr. Wendy Demark-Wahnefried 

Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, Ph.D., R.D., is professor and Webb Endowed Chair of Nutrition Sciences and the associate director for cancer prevention and control at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center.

What made you decide to pursue a career in the medical field?
I had a desire to help people, but at the same time I wanted to pursue a career that was biology-driven.

What kind of research do you do? What are you working on right now?
 I am a nutrition-scientist. Currently, most of my work is dedicated to the development and testing of interventions 
to improve the overall health and functioning of cancer survivors. In addition, our laboratory is keenly interested in finding out how obesity drives more aggressive cancers and whether weight loss interventions can improve prognosis of both breast and prostate cancer.

What kind of obstacles do you face being a woman in the medical field? Did you face any as you were going to medical school?  
 Although I pursued a pre-med program at the University of Michigan, I ultimately decided to pursue a Ph.D. instead of an M.D. Over the course of my career I have worked in a variety of settings that range from the department of surgery at Duke where there were significantly fewer women, to those in which the gender composition was more balanced. While it may be more difficult for women to initially “be heard” in settings that are more male-dominant, I firmly believe that nothing speaks like success and if you do good work, and you are persistent, you will eventually be recognized. Most of the largest obstacles I have faced in my career are not because I am a woman, but rather due to other factors.

What do you like about working with the cancer center/for UAB?
UAB is the third cancer center under which I have worked. I started at Duke and was there for 17 years rising from a project manager to a full professor and then was recruited to MD Anderson Cancer Center, where I spent three years. I came to UAB and like working here because of the collaborative research environment, the great director [Dr. Ed Partridge] and that fact that at UAB, cancer is more than just a business and there is a true concern about the community.

Do you have any advice for girls wanting to get into the medical field?  
The medical field and particularly the research field is terrifically competitive. You really need to work hard, develop thick skin and keep trying. This is generic advice and applies for both males and females.

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