Kemi Doll Minds the Gap
The Seattle doctor thrust a relatively unknown cancer, and its demographics, into the national spotlight.
Kemi Doll is used to being one of the only—or the only—Black women in a room, the unfortunate norm in medical academia. It’s an existence that’s fraught with hypervisibility and intense pressure, but it can lead to a specific, undeniable sort of clarity. In Doll’s case: endometrial cancer’s disproportionate toll on Black women.
Doll, a gynecologic oncologist and associate professor at UW School of Medicine, cites “staggering, shocking” statistics to explain her focus on this specific subsection of the disease. White women who are diagnosed in the U.S. with endometrial cancer—the most common cancer of the female reproductive organs—have an 80 percent survival rate. Black women, by comparison, are 90 percent more likely to die after a diagnosis than their peers.
Since moving to Seattle in 2016, Doll has pulled this lesser-known uterine cancer out of obscurity and into a country-wide conversation about racial inequity in women’s health care. In 2017, she founded the Endometrial Cancer Action Network for African Americans, a national organization that empowers survivors and raises awareness for the disease. That outreach has covered quite the cultural spectrum. Doll’s been quoted in Mother Jones, mentioned on BET, and interviewed on Good Morning America. In September she began enrolling Seattle participants in her four-year, $6 million SISTER Study, which focuses on post-diagnosis social support and how it influences health outcomes. It’s the largest ever funded trial that focuses on Black women.
In her spare time—Doll insists such a thing exists—she has a podcast, runs her own career-coaching business for women of color in academic medicine, and peppers her 9,000 and counting Twitter followers’ feeds with a mix of motivational quotes and health equity messaging.
The research, the outreach, the pressure—it’s a lot, Doll says, but it’s worth it if it means adding a few more Black women to the proverbial room. “I think we miss out on a lot of ideas, especially from women of color, especially in institutionalized spaces, because there’s an automatic thought that there’s no way that all this will fit. Like, I can’t do all of this. And I just think part of what I want to do is be an example in a way. You can.”
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