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Dr. Judith Salmon Kaur

Year of Birth / Death

b. 1945

Medical School

University of Colorado School of Medicine



Career Path

Education: Teaching
Internal medicine: Oncology
Dr. Judith Salmon Kaur


My first loves were learning, books and sciences - I found that I could combine these with my interest in helping people. The field of cancer (oncology) encompasses all my interests with continual learning, high science, care of patients and their families and compassion throughout the cancer continuum—from treatment through the end of care.


Dr. Judith S. Kaur has devoted her career to the improvement of survival rates for American Indians with cancer. Although she had planned to return to the reservation after medical school to practice medicine, she has instead devoted her career to scientific research. Fascinated with the study of cancer, she now makes her contribution to the health of American Indian populations at the forefront of medical science.

As a child, Judith Kaur never dreamed of national prominence. "I'm the first person in my family to graduate from high school, so being a doctor just wasn't something I thought of doing, " she explains. "In school, though, I loved science. I just loved it. And the teachers were very encouraging. In those days, if you were female and good in science, people suggested you should become a teacher." So Kaur became a teacher, and pursued a master's degree in counseling.

As a counselor, Dr. Kaur advised girls to think seriously about their career choices and go on in their education. Eventually, she took her own advice and went into the Indians into Medicine (INMED) program at the University of North Dakota and obtained a bachelor of science in medicine. Dr. Kaur received her M.D. with honors from the University of Colorado Health Services Center in Denver in 1979. She originally planned to return to the reservation and work in family practice or pediatrics. "But," said Dr. Kaur, "I fell in love with the issues surrounding cancer. There was so much going on. I was caught! I did feel some guilt that I didn't return to the reservation and get involved in direct care. But what I've told students and others is that if you do what you love, you will do it well and you will be making a contribution to your people."

As medical director of the Native American Programs of the Mayo Comprehensive Cancer Center, Dr. Kaur develops and oversees programs geared towards cancer education and prevention. One of these programs, Native Women Enjoying the Benefits (WEB) conducts outreach training for nurses so that they can provide breast and cervical cancer prevention and screening. Another program is Native Cancer Information Resource Center and Learning Exchange (CIRCLE), which develops and provides culturally appropriate cancer education materials for both lay persons and health clinicians working with American Indian communities. The Spirit of Eagles program she directs, funded by the National Cancer Institute, advocates for improved cancer prevention and control for American Indian populations and provides scholarship support for American Indian and Alaska Native students in medicine and biological sciences.

In addition to directing these education-based programs, Dr. Kaur also serves as associate professor of oncology at Mayo Medical School. "My job is half patients and half research," explained Dr. Kaur, whose particular research focuses on breast and cervical cancer. Dr. Kaur is the principal investigator for a molecular markers study in breast cancer in American Indian and Alaska Native women and a study of mammographic and clinical risk factors. She is also a member of the National Cancer Institute's Special Populations Working Group and the National Institute of Health's Network for Cancer Control Research in Native American and Alaskan Native Populations.

Dr. Kaur also serves as medical director of the Mayo Hospice, which has led her to a second area of research—palliative care. At the hospice facility, she concentrates on obtaining objective data on the quality of life for dying patients and methods for maintaining quality of life through palliative treatment. For this caring work, indeed for all the work she has done, in Dr. Kaur received the Mayo Clinic Karis Award in 2000, in recognition of her compassion, respect, integrity and excellence in health care.

Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

I wasn't presented with medicine as an option early in my studies. Therefore, I was an older medical student and was almost 40 when I finished my training. I also didn't have financial support when I was younger to pursue medicine.

How do I make a difference?

I make a difference with each patient that I treat compassionately. I also can make a difference for whole communities with education. Finally I can make a difference nationally by speaking out for the needs of cancer patients, particularly American Indians and Alaska Natives. I hope to also make a difference by inspiring talented young American Indian and Alaska Native students to enter medicine.

Who was my mentor?

Mrs. Rose Brown, a Chicago public school teacher, encouraged my love of learning, provided me with experiences in public speaking and was a lifelong model. In medical school, Dr. William Robinson at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, made oncology fascinating, science compelling and the ability to relate to individual patients in a humanistic way rewarding.

How has my career evolved over time?

I always wanted to continue to study science, be a teacher, provide excellent patient care and advocate for the needs of patients. My position at Mayo Clinic allows me to do all of these. In addition, I can provide some national leadership on issues affecting the national cancer program.