Home Sweet Home: A Physician's Return to Tucson

Media Contact: Anna C. Christensen, 520-626-6401, achristensen@email.arizona.edu

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of Act Against Cancer.

Dr. Julie Bauman with her mother, Dr. Kay Bauman.The Bauman name has been a part of the University of Arizona’s story for more than a generation. Hanging on a wall at the UA Cancer Center is a plaque that reads, “In memory of James K. Bauman, MD, a gift from his family.” It has been housed here since the Sydney E. Salmon building first opened in 1998.

Julie E. Bauman, MD, MPH, joined the UA Cancer Center in September 2016 as associate director of translational research and division chief of hematology and oncology at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson. Other faculty members were excited to welcome her to the UA, as she brought so many talents, accomplishments and passions to the table. Dr. Bauman has participated in groundbreaking clinical trials, advocated avidly for cancer prevention and is even named on a patent for a method to treat infection with human papillomavirus.

But, unlike some newcomers to Tucson, Dr. Bauman didn’t need to develop a tolerance for three-digit heat, get into the habit of drinking twice as much water as what seemed normal or learn to stay out of striking distance of a jumping cholla. As a Southwest native, those things already came naturally.

While Dr. Bauman’s birthplace, an Inuit village in Bethel, Alaska, was about as dissimilar to Tucson as it gets, her parents’ medical careers brought them from a post at the Indian Health Service in Alaska to work with migrant farmworkers in the Southwest — first in Phoenix, then to Southern Texas and finally to Tucson when Dr. Bauman was in the seventh grade.

Her parents’ love of nature gave form to many of her childhood memories.

“I was raised camping,” Dr. Bauman recalls. “I spent my childhood summers camping all over the Four Corner states. The Southwestern landscape is my spiritual home. I look at the Catalina Mountains, and I just relax and feel centered. I call the Catalinas my true north.”

To Cooler Climes and Back

In 1985, Dr. Bauman graduated from Salpointe Catholic High School. She received her bachelor’s degree from Eastern Michigan University before earning a dual MD/MPH from Tufts University outside Boston. This foray out of the Southwest, into vastly different climates, delivered a surprising cultural shock to her system.

“The light of the Southwest — I didn’t know at the time how dependent I was on it for health and a sense of place and space,” she remembers, reflecting on her early college years in the Midwest.

Dr. Bauman’s career trajectory is impressive. Her CV is festooned with awards, publications, mentorship roles, research grants and leadership positions with the National Cancer Institute. Her career brought her from a residency in Utah to a fellowship in Seattle, and to professorships in New Mexico and Pennsylvania. It was at the University of Washington that she homed in on head and neck cancer as a specialty.

“Head and neck cancer affects vital functions so critical to our humanity: facial expression, speaking, eating, breathing,” she says. “I became passionate not just about improving treatments for people with head and neck cancer, where science has delivered so many recent successes, but about improving all elements of survivorship. I became increasingly specialized, and when I moved to Pittsburgh I exclusively focused on head and neck cancer research.”

But Tucson beckoned. While she had previously interviewed for a couple of other positions at the UA Cancer Center, “the time was never quite right,” she says.

“I was at the University of Pittsburgh, and I had really followed my academic passions, making progress in head and neck cancer, immunotherapy and chemoprevention research. The University of Pittsburgh is one of the international leaders in head and neck cancer research, and was an amazing place for my academic development,” Dr. Bauman recalls. “However, my personal sense of place and space was never comfortable there.”

Luckily, an opportunity to return to Tucson fell into her lap.

“I was invited to apply for the division chief position in my hometown, and it turned my head for a lot of reasons,” Dr. Bauman recalls. “My mother is still here, my sister is here, my roots are here.”

It wasn’t just her family or the light and landscape of her youth that made Dr. Bauman feel at home. Tucson’s people also are an important aspect of what makes the city so special.

“The openness of people to one another is very different in the West,” Dr. Bauman says. “I went to medical school in Boston. Most recently, I was at the University of Pittsburgh. What I love about the University of Arizona is that there is a really amazing set of accomplished, brilliant scientific minds here and yet the spirit of interaction is so collaborative. Physicians and scientists are every bit as accomplished and yet, in my view, much more humble and open.”

While her work as a researcher and oncologist keeps her busy, she still enjoys spending time outdoors, hiking, swimming and cycling. Most recently, she has taken up taekwondo with her family. Another hobby is the study of the world’s religions, which enables her to connect to patients across the spectrum of spiritual traditions.

“One of the things that I love about being an oncologist is that we’re in people’s lives at a time when their spirituality and their sense of meaning is really challenged,” she says. “I really love to engage my patients at that level.”

A More Meaningful Homecoming

Dr. Bauman’s Tucson homecoming wasn’t just an opportunity to unite her three children and husband with her mother and sister. It also was an opportunity for a unique reunion with her father, who passed away suddenly when she was 16 years old.

“My dad was an ob/gyn here in Tucson,” Dr. Bauman recalls. “My mom really wanted to create a way of memorializing him as a physician, and wanted us to have a way of seeing him memorialized.”

The construction of the UA Cancer Center’s Salmon building on the UA campus presented an opportunity for this memorial, and Dr. Bauman’s mother made a donation to the Cancer Center, memorializing James K. Bauman, MD, with a plaque that hung on the new building’s wall.

When Dr. Bauman started working here, she looked for that plaque, but couldn’t find it. Unbeknownst to her, however, Chad Adams, the assistant director of cancer clinical research, and Elik Essif, the UA Cancer Center facilities coordinator, had hatched a plan.

“When Dr. Bauman was interviewing here, I asked her if there was any relation to the Bauman name that I had seen on the wall,” Mr. Adams says. “She told me that was her father, and when we got to speaking about her family, both parents being physicians, and her mother practicing medicine at the UA, you could tell just how much her parents meant to her. Elik and I wanted Dr. Bauman to be able to see it every day and feel at home.”

Mr. Essif located the plaque and carefully moved it from its previous location on the second floor to Dr. Bauman’s office.

Dr. Bauman’s mother made a donation to the UA Cancer Center, memorializing James K. Bauman, MD, with a plaque that hung on the new building’s wall.“One day I came to work, a few months after I’d started, and the facilities manager had found it and had moved it to above my door,” Dr. Bauman recalls. “When I walked in, there it was, right above my own name as if it had always been there. I took a picture and texted it to my mother, and it was very moving to her.”

Dr. Bauman now can reach out and touch that plaque every time she enters her office, bringing back her father’s memory and reinforcing the lifelong connection she has with Tucson and the University of Arizona.

“I hope it provides her with inspiration every time she walks into her office,” says Mr. Adams.

Her commitment to providing care to people with cancer is just as strong as her love for Tucson.

“What gets me out of bed every day? My patients,” says Dr. Bauman. “It’s being a part of a person’s life when they’re going through something this important. It is remarkable to me how the diagnosis of cancer helps people to marshal their strength, focus on what’s truly meaningful and really participate in their own treatment — even the decision to stop treatment. The privilege of being an oncologist is being a true partner in my patient’s journey.”

Images: Dr. Julie Bauman with her mother, Dr. Kay Bauman.