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Passionate pursuit: Alumna builds breast-imaging program in Tidewater


By Sarah Lockwood

Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017

With most of the breast cancer diagnoses she delivers, Melinda “Lindy” Dunn, M.D., can put a positive spin on the news. That’s because, with the help of dedicated radiologists and modern technology, 70 percent of the Women’s Imaging Pavilion’s cancer diagnoses are stage 0 or 1, far better than the national average of 62.6 percent.

Dunn, 58, was the first female radiologist to practice in Williamsburg, Virginia, and is a leader in early breast cancer detection. But her path to this career was not clear from the start.

Dunn began her journey as a nursing student at Virginia Commonwealth University, graduating in 1980. Soon after, she earned her M.S.N. and nurse practitioner certificate from the University of Virginia and worked as a family nurse practitioner in Petersburg, Virginia, before becoming a faculty member in the nurse practitioner program at VCU.

Dunn was determined to continue her education. She began the coursework for VCU’s health administration Ph.D. program, but soon realized that was not the degree she wanted.

“I just felt that I could possibly affect more change and have a bigger impact if I were practicing as a physician,” said Dunn, who put her sights on the VCU School of Medicine. Her acceptance letter arrived as an early Christmas present.

“I’ll never forget,” she said. “I was ecstatic because that’s where I wanted to be. I just felt at home here." 

During her fourth year, Dunn choose to specialize in radiology. When then-residency Director Pinson Neal, M.D., encouraged Dunn to think about subspecializing in breast imaging, she found her calling.

“It was the fact that it was a subspecialty within radiology that would give me the kind of patient contact that I knew I needed,” Dunn said. 

Dunn continued her VCU career in a breast-imaging fellowship under the tutelage of Ellen Shaw de Parades, M.D., who also completed her residency at VCU. She thought she would stay at VCU forever. But in 1998, when Williamsburg Radiology (now Tidewater Diagnostic Imaging) contacted her about opening a breast-imaging program in Williamsburg, she accepted the challenge.

“There was support, not only from the group who was going to be hiring me but from the referring physicians,” Dunn said. “I just sensed that this was a community that would be really supportive.”

Before Dunn and her colleagues opened the Women’s Imaging Pavilion, which has now been expanded to the nationally accredited Sentara Williamsburg Comprehensive Breast Center, most referring physicians in Williamsburg were sending patients to Richmond for breast imaging. Now, 18 years later, with new technologies and six dedicated fellowship-trained breast imagers in the Tidewater Diagnostic Imaging group, Dunn’s small center has grown to accommodate more than 12,000 annual mammography screenings, of which she’s incredibly proud.

“It’s been the most rewarding practice,” Dunn said. “I absolutely love what I do. I manage patients, I am one of their physicians, but it’s very subspecialized and I kind of have that personality.”

Dunn is an avid tennis player. She and her husband, Bob, have two poodles, Ezekial “Zeke” Bonaparte and Priscilla “Cilly” Antoinette. Dunn shares her passion for canines with her colleague Jacque Hogge, M.D. (H.S.’94/M), a fellow breast imager. The two met 20 years ago during their residency at VCU.

“Lindy is a fabulous and dedicated breast imager,” Hogge said, describing the friendly, “can-do” attitude of the practice Dunn helped build. “I think her dedication, evidenced by her numerous community-outreach events over the years, has helped build this practice to what it is today.”

“With breast imaging, I found my ‘calling,’ and it remains the most life-affirming specialty I could have chosen. ”

Dunn’s dedication to the field does not end with screenings and biopsies. She also organizes retreats for breast cancer survivors, consults for the grassroots support group Beyond Boobs and serves on the planning committee for the American Cancer Society John Randolph/Dr. Mark Ellis Annual Memorial Dinner.

“With breast imaging, I found my ‘calling,’ and it remains the most life-affirming specialty I could have chosen. All I ever want to do is make a difference,” Dunn said. “[You hope] that with each patient interaction you’re making a positive difference in that woman’s life in some way or other.”