Woodinville-native Dua Khan has been highly aware of the vulnerability of medicine ever since she discovered a tumor in her breast as an undergraduate at the University of Washington.
One night, following a lecture on the cancer cycle, Khan was reciting her notes in the shower when she found the lump. She was 20 years old at the time, and cancer was only on her mind because of an impending exam.
“I think what really scared me was waiting for the results and knowing this could happen at any time,” she said. “I didn't expect it. I just realized how vulnerable we all are and that health is really fleeting. I guess you don't know until something happens.”
Fortunately, the tumor was benign. Khan said this experience pushed her to learn more about the patient-doctor relationship and the importance of forming a connection with those facing difficult health issues.
Studying medicine was not always a dream for Khan. After participating in DECA at Woodinville High School (class of 2014), she was convinced business and entrepreneurship were in her future. But when she took a biology class as part of an undergraduate requirement, everything changed.
Khan said she was fascinated by how the human body works, especially the molecular biology behind how DNA is made and repaired. Additionally, she found interest in restorative justice, which she shared in a presentation at a national conference this past fall.
“I knew I liked science, but I didn't know I'd like it that much,” she said.
As a result, Khan started volunteering in hospice at Evergreen Health in Kirkland. She said the opportunity pushed her to actually pursue medicine, while applying it to help people be more comfortable with difficult things like death and bad health.
This led her to volunteer at a free pop-up healthcare clinic at her mosque in Redmond. At the time, she said, there was an influx of Syrian refugees to Seattle and people were experiencing language barriers, financial barriers and physical barriers. Khan, who can speak the Pakistani language of Urdo, would help with translation to create a welcoming space for conversation.
“Especially in hospice and in the clinic, it's not easy to open up about your health and be vulnerable to a stranger,” she said.
Khan said she is most interested in geriatric and palliative medicine, which typically involves older patients. People at the end of their life are dealing with a wide array of problems and emotions, she noted, such as issues with mental health and physical movement, financial troubles, family struggles and even spiritual concerns.
She is especially interested in the interdisciplinary aspect of hospice care when dealing with older patients and refugees. She said managing social situations and understanding patient history is beneficial when dealing with all people.
Now, as a second-year medical student at Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences in Yakima, Khan aims to help underserved populations receive the health care they deserve. As the executive president of PNWU’s student government, she serves as the voice for her fellow medical students.
She said her experience with DECA gave her the confidence to present herself to patients and other doctors. In practicing medicine, Khan said, she learned it is also a form of business.
With plans to graduate from PNWU in 2023, she hopes to move back to the Woodinville area and establish a free healthcare clinic. Khan said she wants to continue helping underserved populations, which includes the elderly, refugees and those without healthcare.