Dr. Julie Vose Finds the Best of Both Worlds—Patient Care and Cutting-Edge Research—in Academic Medicine 

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Julie M. Vose, MD, MBA, is the Neumann M. and Mildred E. Harris Professor and Chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She grew up in Mitchell, South Dakota, a small town nestled on the banks of the James River. Mitchell is home to the Corn Palace, which pays homage to the agricultural heritage of South Dakota—a state so vast and scarcely populated that it averages only 10 people per square mile.

Early Interest in Science

Dr. Vose’s father was a pathologist; he nurtured his daughter’s early interest in science by helping her with her chemistry projects. “During the summers while I was in high school, I worked in my father’s laboratory. That’s really how I first became interested in medicine, looking through the microscope at cancer cells. My mother was a nurse, so I grew up in a health-care environment,” said Dr. Vose.

After high school, Dr. Vose went to South Dakota State University, where she majored in medical technology, which is preparation to work in a medical laboratory. Toward the end of her training, however, Dr. Vose decided she wanted to become a doctor.

“After graduating from South Dakota State, I moved to Omaha and enrolled in the University of Nebraska Medical School. During my junior and senior years, I began doing chart review research with Dr. James Armitage. That was when I first became interested in lymphoma,” said Dr. Vose.

Dr. Vose did her fellowship and internship in internal medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. “I continued doing research and clinical trial work with Dr. Armitage, who became a terrific mentor. During that time, I became even more fascinated by lymphoma, hematologic malignancies, and stem cell transplantation,” said Dr. Vose.

Asked what she felt were the major advances during her career, Dr. Vose said, “The development of filgrastim [Neupogen] was a big step in lymphoma treatment because it allowed us to deliver effective chemotherapy drugs more successfully. And in lymphoma specifically, it would be the development of rituximab [Rituxan], which hugely modified the way we deliver therapy in that disease.” She added, “Then, more recently, there is the ongoing work in gene expression, which may guide the development of individualized therapy for lymphoma patients.”

Delicate Balance

As Chief of Hematology/Oncology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, a large part of Dr. Vose’s energy is spent in administrative work. “I’m in charge of 19 faculty members and about 100 other employees. Managing a group of this size takes up about 40% of my time,” said Dr. Vose. Despite her hefty administrative workload, Dr. Vose is still very active in the clinic, spending about 30% of her time tending to patients with lymphoma and multiple myeloma.

“The rest of my time is spent on clinical research. It’s always a delicate balance with funding, so we do a mix of investigator-initiated trials, cooperative group trials, and clinical trials from pharmaceutical companies,” said Dr. Vose.

Asked why she chose a career in academic medicine, Dr. Vose said, “I like working in academic medicine because it’s the best of both worlds. I get to administer cutting-edge treatments and take care of patients and also conduct research to find new ways to treat them. An added benefit is to be able to teach the next generation of cancer care providers.”

Forward-Looking Mission

Dr. Vose noted that that the University of Nebraska Medical Center is one of the leading centers for treatment and transplant for patients with lymphoma and other blood cancers, and is constantly recruiting new faculty and scientists. In order to keep pace with this vibrant pattern of growth, Dr. Vose said they are currently constructing a new cancer campus that includes a research tower featuring state-of-the-art laboratories and advanced technology. In addition to the cancer research tower, the cancer campus will have comprehensive outpatient clinical facilities, a 108-bed cancer hospital, and space for further expansion.

For an oncologist deeply engaged in cutting-edge research, it is a dream come true to be part of an institution with such a forward-looking mission. However, oncology is about caring for patients with cancer, and Dr. Vose stressed that her institution is people-oriented. “The people are so friendly and outgoing, which is hugely important in that it creates a warm and supportive environment for our patients. Helping patients get through their journey with cancer in such a supportive place like the University of Nebraska is incredibly rewarding.”

Dr. Vose has led numerous clinical trials and published widely. Her research has led her to be an advisor and member of several advisory boards, and she was elected to the ASCO Board of Directors. Her 3-year term ended in June. She was also recently awarded with the designation of Fellow of ASCO (FASCO), which recognizes ASCO members for their long-term service to ASCO.

Overarching Challenge

After a long and illustrious career that has seen cancer victories but has also been tempered by the frustrating slowness of progress in many cancers, is Dr. Vose optimistic for the future?

“The advances in recent years have come from our understanding of cancer on the molecular level, which, for instance, has helped us develop therapies that directly attack lymphoma cells. But the overarching challenge we face today is one of quality, cost, and efficiency. We weren’t taught that in medical school,” she said.

“To ensure that we’ll have the resources to continue our vital work in clinical trials and research, we need to find ways to become more efficient. It’s already part of the new culture, so I think the future in oncology is promising,” Dr. Vose concluded. ■

Julie M. Vose, MD, MBA

TITLE: Neumann M. and Mildred E. Harris Professor and Chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha

MEDICAL DEGREE: MD, University of Nebraska Medical Center

BUSINESS DEGREE: MBA in Health Administration, University of Colorado Business School

RESEARCH INTERESTS: New therapies for Hodgkin disease, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia, including stem cell transplantation, immunotherapy, and other novel agents

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS AND HONORS: Member, ASCO Board of Directors (2010–2013); Fellow, ASCO (elected 2013); Co-Chair, Lymphoma Steering Committee, National Cancer Institute (2009–2014); Member FDA Oncologic Advisory Board (2011–2014); Chair, Publications Committee, ASCO (2009–2010); Carol Bell Cancer Research Award, Eppley Cancer Center (2009); UNMC Department of Internal Medicine Career Investigator (2009); UNMC Distinguished Scientist Award (2008); UNMC Department of Internal Medicine Clinical Research Award (2000); Lymphoma Research Foundation’s Evelyn Hoffman Memorial Award for Excellence in Lymphoma Research (2000); Fellow, American College of Physicians (elected 1997)