Researcher Focuses on Closing the Disparity Gap

By Sara Bondell - February 21, 2022


Women faculty at Moffitt Cancer Center come from different backgrounds and cultures around the globe. Their areas of research and clinical care span the entire cancer continuum, including clinical science and trials, basic science, epidemiology, health outcomes, integrated mathematical oncology, biostatistics and more. Community involvement, mentorship and inclusion among faculty are foundational, and we celebrate the essential roles women play in making a difference at the cancer center and in society.

Meet Dr. Kimberley Lee.
Kimberley Lee, M.D., M.H.S., is an assistant member in the Department of Breast Oncology at Moffitt. After moving to the U.S. from Jamaica, she received her medical degree from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and her Master of Health Science in general epidemiology from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She has completed an internal medicine residency at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and a medical oncology fellowship at Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center. Lee’s research expertise involves using epidemiology, health services research and implementation science to investigate modifiable biological, clinical and health care-related factors that contribute to disparities in breast cancer survival. She is particularly interested in developing interventions to address those factors and improve survival for women with breast cancer.

What made you go into medicine as your career?

I have always been drawn to science ever since I was a little kid. As I started exploring bench research, I realized that wasn’t quite for me, and at the same time I started to do some clinical shadowing experiences. I fell in love with just talking to patients and loved the relationship that I saw between patients and doctors.

You are also a researcher. What drew you to that field?

The research that I do is focused on health outcomes and health disparities, and that means a lot to me. When I see a patient in clinic, I’m helping one person at that specific point in time — and that is important — but my research allows me to reach so many more people than I could ever reach in clinic. I am really passionate about that.

Tell us more about your health disparities research.

Health disparities is one of the first things I learned about when I moved to the U.S. and did my training in Baltimore. There’s a huge life expectancy gap for Black and white people depending on where they live. When I began exploring what that means clinically for breast cancer, I found a huge difference in survival between Black women and white women. I found that just inherently unfair. So, my research aims to determine what we can do to make a tangible difference. Focusing on health care delivery, what can our clinic do to close that disparity gap?

When it comes to coming up with innovative changes to meet the new needs during the COVID-19 pandemic, what strengths do women bring to the table?

Flexibility, understanding and empathy. I found I have a lot of empathy for people with kids at home. I think we also are good at allowing for grace and understanding that it’s not a perfect situation and we are all dealing with that cat walking across the screen, the child in the room or the lawn mower in the background.

What comes to mind when you hear the term “imposter syndrome”?

I don’t belong and I’m fooling everyone. It’s pretty pervasive and hard to recognize, which is why I think talking about it is important. Having the knowledge of what it is in the back of your head can make it easier to recognize if you’ve at least heard it before.

Have you ever experienced a feeling of imposter syndrome?

Yeah, absolutely. During one of my shifts as an intern in the ICU, a nurse was asking for help with a patient who was crashing. I remember having this thought of, ‘Man, they really need a doctor.’ I was sure there’s no way that I could be in charge of trying to literally save someone’s life.

How did you overcome it to move your career forward?

I think imposter syndrome comes in waves whenever there’s a major transition in responsibility, so from medical student to intern, from resident to fellow, and from fellow to attending. I think the knowledge of it, being able to recognize it is a first step, followed by being conscientious and trying to move forward to stop that negative self-talk. I also think time and experience can help.

What does self-care mean to you?

It means giving myself the space to take care of me. It’s hard because the first thing I tend to give up when things get hard, busy and stressful is self-care, even though it should be the exact opposite because when you’re stressed out is when you need self-care the most. It also comes with the understanding that I can only be my best self, I can only give the best care to my patients, when I take care of myself.

What kind of things do you do to unwind and recharge?

I do yoga, acupuncture and practice mindfulness-based meditation. I also get massages regularly and prioritize spending time with my friends and family. I am really trying to develop and maintain that support system.

Who is the person who has encouraged you the most and why?

My mom. Just having this driving force that believes in me no matter what is a huge propulsion forward.

What do you like about living in the Tampa Bay area?

The water. It’s not Jamaica, but it’s close. I would barely get in the water when I was living on the East Coast, and now I find such peace walking along the Courtney Campbell Causeway on a Sunday or taking a long drive over the bridge to St. Pete.

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Sara Bondell Medical Science Writer More Articles


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