Dr. Najla Itani says she always knew she wanted to be a doctor. Both of her parents are physicians, her father a surgeon and her mother an anesthesiologist who met in an operating room. She was born in Saudi Arabia to her Lebanese parents who had been recruited there to work on an American compound. Since she grew up on the American compound, English is her first language, though she does speak Arabic. She went to school there on the compound with people from all over the world. “In a way, it prepared me for my job now. Getting used to all these different cultures, meeting different people in that setting and really understanding how medicine is across the world.” At the age of 16, she went to a boarding school in Bahrain for three years, before heading to Lebanon for college and medical school.
A mentor she had in medical school led her to oncology and working with cancer patients. She saw how that mentor was really good with older patient populations, and she knew then she wanted to take care of vulnerable patients. Once she started in oncology, it was the patients who kept her there. “Getting to know these people and learning that I can be there for them in probably some of the worst times of their lives, that was something I really wanted to keep doing more and more of,” she said. Her family was touched by cancer as well, as her father struggled with the disease.
Now, she’s started working at Conway Medical Center for what she considers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, heading up the new CMC Cancer Center affiliated with Duke Health. “My whole goal throughout everything I’ve done has always been to be of service. I wanted to serve the community, and this was even more exciting for me because I get to start from the ground up and be there from zero and make it what I think it should be.” Though it has been a lot of hard work, she is up for the challenge.
Outside of work, she spends a lot of time with her one-year-old son and husband, who is a nephrologist (kidney) doctor. They enjoy being outdoors together. Two of her favorite activities are bowling and bingo, both of which can be traced to her childhood in Saudi Arabia, as her family took part in those activities while she was growing up. She and her family love to travel and have friends from all over the world. She is excited to bring those experiences and be a part of the community here at Conway Medical Center.