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Dr. Marilyn A. Roubidoux

Year of Birth / Death

b. 1948

Medical School

University of Utah School of Medicine



Career Path

Diagnostic and therapeutic services: Radiology
Dr. Marilyn A. Roubidoux


Most commonly, when students are asked this question, they reply that they "like science and like helping people." However, for me it was different. From a young age there was a feeling in my heart that to be a doctor, to minister to the sick, was a purpose of my life. Therefore I studied science diligently in order to prepare for this mission.


Marilyn A. Roubidoux, M.D., works to bring existing medical tools to the underserved to diagnose cancer and identify risk factors for the disease. As a member of the Sioux and Iowa Nations she has seen high incidences of cancer among American Indian and Alaska Native populations from a personal and a medical perspective. As a researcher, teacher, and physician, she has tackled the issue in a number of ways—and by drawing national attention to this health disparity and raising awareness within at-risk communities.

Marilyn Roubidoux felt from a young age that her purpose in life was to minister to the sick. Because it was difficult for women to get into medical school and she wasn't sure how to reconcile her plans to get married and have children with her craeer, she didn't enroll in medical school until she was 32 years old. Eleven years after graduating magna cum laude from Brigham Young University with a bachelor of science in microbiology in 1969, she earned her doctor of medicine degree from the University of Utah School of Medicine in 1984. After a residency at the University of California, Irvine, she joined Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina as a resident in radiology and a fellow in abdominal imaging, before becoming an assistant professor of radiology there. Since 1992, she has been on the staff of the University of Michigan School of Medicine, becoming an associate professor in 1998.

Dr. Roubidoux's two major areas of research are cancer among American Indian and Alaska Native populations, and breast disease. Cancer has affected Roubidoux's ancestors and relatives, so she takes particular satisfaction in knowing that she is helping her biological family as well as her larger ancestral family. According to year 2000 statistics from the U. S. Department of Public Health and Human Services, cancer is the second leading cause of death among American Indians and Alaska Natives over age 45. A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that overall death rates for the four top cancers increased 67 percent among American Indians and Alaska Natives from 1990 to 1998. Early and accurate diagnosis is particularly important for those who lack insurance or otherwise have limited access to health care, and, as a group, American Indians and Alaska Natives are second only to Hispanics in terms of the percentages of each group who do not have health insurance.

Happily, Dr. Roubidoux has been able to combine the family life she always wanted with the career she considered her personal mission. She is married to a physician and radiologist and has raised three daughters—all born before she entered medical school.

Dr. Roubidoux is widely published on the topic of cancer in American Indian populations and lectures regularly on the subject around the country. She is also a member of the Society of Breast Imaging, the Network for Cancer Control Research among American Indians and Alaska Natives, and the American Association of Indian Physicians.

Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

The biggest obstacles were that during the 1960s it was very difficult for a woman to get into medical school. This discouraged me from my life purpose and made me believe that I probably was not smart enough, or ever dedicated enough, in as much as I also desired to have a family and children. Thus these two goals seemed mutually exclusive. This is paradoxical to me now, because after having children it is obvious that women are natural care-givers and easily take on the responsibility for another person's care. There were no family members who were physicians to be a model or to receive advice from. I did not feel close to any physicians. Because of this early discouragement, I delayed going to medical school until realizing that this feeling could not be ignored; thus when I was 32 years old, I enrolled in medical school.

How do I make a difference?

My work in medicine has been chiefly in cancer diagnosis in academic radiology. As a researcher, teacher, and physician, patients are cared for in the best possible ways; new doctors are trained to be highly skilled; and work is done to advance medical science. This is very interesting and rewarding work. In addition, my ancestors and relatives had cancer; therefore this disease has personal meaning which helps me care for patients. Beyond the University of Michigan Medical Center, research and work involving cancer among American Indian and Alaska Native populations is particularly meaningful and is one of the purposes of my life, to be helping all my relations. Additionally, and as important as medical work, I mentor my three adult daughters in their own unique paths in life.

Who was my mentor?

My mentor in late residency and currently is my husband, who is also a physician and radiologist and has guided my academic career. Before he came along, there was no specific mentor through medical school or early residency, and through most of that time it seemed like I was cutting through a forest, uncertain of the path ahead.